How to understand hearing loss audiograms

An audiogram is a graph of an individual’s hearing ability. But what does it actually say?


The frequency, or pitch of the sound, is along the horizontal axis. Lower pitched sounds are on the left-hand side of the chart, and higher frequency sounds are along the right-hand side of the chart. A deep, bass drum would be a low frequency sound, while a shrill, chirping bird would be a high frequency sound.

The volume of the sound is along the vertical axis. Sound volume increases down the length of the chart. Sound is measured in decibels (dB), which does not increase in a linear fashion. 50dB is much, much louder than 10dB.


Each person with a hearing loss has an individual hearing profile, but audiograms can be classified into general groups based on the shape.

Sloping: This is the most common audiogram. A person can hear low frequency sounds better than high frequency sounds.

Reverse-Slope: This is a rarer type of audiogram. People with conductive hearing losses often have a rising audiogram, though it is possible for sensorineural hearing losses to have a rising shape, too. In a very rare type of reverse-slope hearing loss (extreme reverse-slope), an individual may not be able to hear thunder, but can hear whispers across the room!

Cookie-Bite: This audiogram looks like someone took a bite right out of the middle of the graph. A person with this hearing loss hears low and high frequency sounds better than the mid-frequency sounds. This type of hearing loss is usually genetic, and may progress over time.

Tent-Shaped: This type of hearing loss is not very common. The individual with this type of hearing loss can hear the middle frequencies the best, but has difficulty with the high and low frequencies. Sometimes a tent shaped hearing loss develops when a person with a reverse-slope loss ages and begins to lose the high frequency sounds due to presbyacusis (age-related hearing loss).

Flat: The person with this type of hearing loss hears at about the same level across the speech frequencies. Both conductive and sensorineural hearing losses may take this shape.

Corner: When a person has a small amount of residual hearing in the low frequencies, but no recordable hearing on the rest of the audiogram, the person has a corner audiogram. A person with this type of audiogram would be a candidate for a cochlear implant.


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