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Occup Environ Med. 2001 Jan;58(1):46-51.

Audiometric notch as a sign of noise induced hearing loss.

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Institute of Occupational Health, University of Birmingham, UK.



To investigate the relation between different types of exposure to noise and a classic sign of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL), the audiometric notch.


The study sample had exposure to both continuous and impulse noise and was drawn from a population of electrical transmission workers. Audiograms, taken as part of a hearing conservation programme, were read by three clinicians experienced in the assessment of NIHL. Working independently and using their clinical judgment, they were asked to identify localised increases in the threshold of hearing (audiometric notches) which they would attribute to noise, had a suitable history of exposure been elicited. Prevalent cases of NIHL were identified by the presence of a notch in either ear. Risk factors for NIHL were assessed by a questionnaire which sought information about exposure to air blast circuit breaker noise; firearms; explosions, and continuous noise. The odds of exposure to these factors in those with and without hearing loss were calculated, and odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) were estimated by logistic regression.


Of the 648 questionnaires sent out 357 were returned, a response rate of 55%. Of these, at least two out of the three assessors identified 175 (49%) people with a notch at any audiometric frequency. There was no association between these cases and the NIHL risk factors identified by the questionnaire, but a further frequency specific analysis showed a small proportion of people (15 (4%)) with notches at 4 kHz who had the expected associations with exposure to noise and a significant OR for firearms of 4.25 (95% CI 1.28 to 14.1). The much larger proportion of people with 6 kHz notches (110 (31%)) did not show these associations.


To diagnose NIHL it is important to elicit a detailed and accurate history of exposure to noise: although the notch at 4 kHz is a well established clinical sign and may be valuable in confirming the diagnosis, the 6 kHz notch is variable and of limited importance.

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