Thursday, October 15, 2009


An audiogram is a chart or graphic record that is used to record a person's abiltiy to hear sound at certain decibel and frequency levels.
When a person suspects hearing loss, they undergo testing with an audiometer.  I often refer to this as "the box." You go inside a sound proof room, put on the provided head phones, and raise your hand or push a button when you hear the beep.  Each beep is delivered at a different frequency and decibel level.  A decibel is simply a unit used to express the intensity of a sound wave.  The louder the sound, the higher the decibel number.  Speech comes in around 20-50 decibels, leaves rustling-20 decibels, a nightclub or concert is around 110, a hair dryer, about 80.
Take a look at the audiogram below...most of them don't come in rainbow colors but I wanted to show you a few extra things.

The numbers on the left are decibels from soft to loud going down; the numbers across the bottom are frequencies from low to high.
You can see where I boxed in 20-50 to show you where normal speech falls on the sound chart.  Notice the letters on the chart in the blue section.  These are called phonemes, or more simply put, sounds letters make.  You can see that M is around 35 decibels, O is 40 decibels and 750Hz, etc.
I colored the chart to show you the different levels of hearing loss.  A person with normal hearing would fall into the pink area and be able to hear all sounds below it. 
The vertical lines show frequency levels.  Look at the black hand drawn line with the Xes at the top of the chart.  This is what a normal audiogram would look like.  At each frequency, the person raised his or her hand at the beep and the audiologist drew an X.  If the person being tested fails to raise his hand or push a button, the audiologist raises the decibel until the patient can hear it, finally marking an X at the correct level.
The red Xes are mine; I can hear all sounds below my line.  As you can see, my hearing levels are well below the normal speech threshold; you need to be as loud as a hair dryer or vacuum for me to hear you.  My loss is considered moderate to severe.  Without amplification, I am pretty much useless.  I can hear men better than women since their voices are usually lower.  You can see that my Xes take a dip as the frequency increases before coming back up with the really high frequencies.
People who have even a mild loss should consider hearing aids since most speech occurs at that level.  I'm trying to get the courage together to go a whole day without using mine just to see what happens.  When I finally do, I'm sure I'll blog about it!  I'm also curious to see what an audiogram with my hearing aids would look like, definitely not normal, but I'm thinking mild to moderate.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

What does hearing loss sound like?

The Phonak site has a great set up that will allow you to click on a sound to hear the way people with normal hearing would hear it.  Then you can click on the same sound to hear it the way someone with a mild loss or a moderate loss hears it.

My loss is moderate to severe and you can actually hear more on the link under "moderate loss" than what I can hear without my hearing aids.  With my aids, it sounds like "mild loss" most of the time, but in noisy situations, it still sounds like a moderate loss.  

Try don't have to download anything, just turn on your speakers.

In my next post, I will explain audiograms, show you my own, and where certain speech sounds fall on the chart.

Monday, October 12, 2009

An Inevitable Involuntary Manifestion: Or How I Learned To Read Lips Without Knowing About It

A few things happen when one begins to lose her hearing, things that are beyond control, involuntary, and absolutely pivotal.  In my previous posts, you read that my hearing loss began in the 5th grade and I somehow managed without hearing amplification to become a junior in college with a 4.0.  And you're probably wondering how I pulled it off...
When hearing loss is progressive, you adapt, even if you don't realize that it's happening.  Simply put, I learned to lip read; honestly put, I learned a lot more than that.
When people speak of lip reading, I believe that they may not fully understand what is actually involved.  Lip reading or speech reading is not simply watching lips and being able to "see" what sounds are made.  It actually involves a whole lot more, such as analyzing body language and using context clues.  Wikipedia defines it as "a technique of understanding speech by visually interpreting the movements of the lips, face and tongue with information provided by the context, language, and any residual hearing."  Basically, you learn to use everything you've got to make out whatever it is you're trying to hear.  Lip readers use cues from the environment and put that together with what is most likely to be said in the given situation. For me, this just happened involuntarily; I didn't look it up or take a class or even ask another deaf person how to do it.  It happened before I even realized it was happening and I was doing it long before I realized I was doing it.
Fortunately, I have a gift for using context clues and solving puzzles.  Maybe I was born with it, or maybe, it's a byproduct of my hearing loss.  Either way, I'm good at this sort of thing.  I can usually figure out what you are saying even if I can not hear all of the words.  But that does not mean I will not ask you to repeat yourself if I did not get it all the first time.  I think that this kind of speech reading is what helped me survive without hearing aids for so long.  Believe me, it is not enough on its own, but it was something that helped me get through life as long as I did without amplification.  Another thing to keep in mind, is that a hearing impaired person is using many more levels of concentration than others might use.  I often find myself exhausted after a night of social activities (even without the wine) and there are some people I know that I'd just rather not make the effort to socialize with because they require so much energy to be understood.  Some of these people get the nod and uh-huh tactic and some of them, I simply avoid as much as possible.  However, most people do not fall into either of these categories and with some effort, can be heard and understood even without my hearing aids.

What can you do to make it easier for the hard of hearing/deaf/hearing impaired to read your lips?

-always face the person you are speaking with
-slow down, avoid slang, especially new or trendy phrases that don't really make sense in context, and mixing languages such as English and Spanish which is fairly common in Texas these days
-be careful not to stand in front of a bright window or light or your face will be shadowed
-mustaches and excessive facial hair can pose a hindrance
-allow only one person in a group to speak at a time
-do not try to exaggerate or speak too loud; this confuses us when we are trying to place context clues and can distort the sound of what little we can still hear
-be sure to enunciate and even slow down a little
-do not talk with food or anything else in your mouth
-get my attention before you begin speaking to me, please don't yell at me, just touch me or say my name when I look at you
-remember some rooms are better situated to hearing than others (acoustics), rooms with carpet, drapes, soft furniture are easier environments than hard floors, tall ceilings, background noise, or even outdoors
-if you have an unfamiliar accent and are soft spoken, be prepared to repeat yourself many times or just write it down

I'm sure to think of more later, but for now, just try to keep these tips in mind.