What is Audiology?
If you’ve been referred to an audiologist, you may be wondering what audiology is in the first place. In this article, we’ll answer that question and tell you more about what audiologists do, the types of diagnostic tests they perform, and the conditions they treat. Finally, we’ll close by talking about the hearing treatments they use and where to find an audiologist.
Read on to learn more!
What Does the Term “Audiology” Mean?
“Audiology” is the combination of two root words, and it literally means “the study of hearing.” Since hearing involves the ears and the inner ear is responsible for balance, audiology also entails working on balance issues.
What Does An Audiologist Do?
Audiologists can help you manage and rehabilitate yourself if you’re suffering from a hearing or balance disorder. Every audiologist holds a doctorate in audiology that they’ve obtained from an accredited university, and they stay knowledgeable about hearing and balance care after graduation. They can also seek special certifications if they’d like.
Audiologists are qualified to care for patients of any age. They are adept at working within teams to provide a tailored approach to patient care.
Audiologists can work in the following settings:
- ENT offices
- Private practices
What Types of Tests Can I Expect?
Here are some of the diagnostic tests you can expect from an audiologist:
- Acoustic immittance tests. A pressurized probe is inserted into the ear canal to test the eardrum’s response to changes in air pressure. This test (also known as tympanometry), is used to diagnose middle ear abnormalities using gentle air pressure.
- Acoustic reflex testing. Using a tympanometer, the same instrument used for immittance tests, the audiologist emits a loud tone (around 80 decibels) into a patient’s ear. If inner ear muscles don’t contract in response, this indicates a possibility of hearing loss and nerve damage.
- Auditory steady-state response. In this test, electrodes are placed on the head, and sounds are repeated in both ears at a high repetition rate. The results are analyzed to determine whether the person has mild, moderate, or severe hearing loss. This test can also help determine the extent of hearing loss down to the decibel.
- Brainstem auditory evoked response. Electrodes are placed on the patient’s head and then tones or clicking sounds are made in one ear at a time. This test is also called an ABR (auditory brainstem response test) or BAER test, and it’s used to detect hearing loss caused by injury or tumors that affect the nerves that affect hearing.
- Otoacoustic emissions. A probe is placed in the inner ear which emits sound waves and measures the sounds that come back. Healthy ears give off otoacoustic emissions – a quiet vibration that echoes to the inner ear. If hearing loss is greater than 25-30 decibels (or there’s a blockage) the test won’t detect otoacoustic emissions.
- Other tests. An audiologist may also administer a screening questionnaire, a whispered voice test, or audiometry.
What Conditions Does an Audiologist Treat?
Here are a few of the conditions an audiologist can help treat:
- Auditory processing disorders. This condition makes it harder for people to hear small sound differences in words. This leads to confusion in communication.
- Dizziness. This condition can be dangerous for seniors, causing unsteadiness, falling, or difficulty walking.
- Hidden hearing loss. This condition is an inability to follow a conversation in a noisy environment and isn’t readily detected using common hearing tests.
- Noise-induced hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is caused by one-time or repeated exposure to loud sounds and results from damage to the structures/nerve fibers in the inner ear.
- Sensorineural hearing loss. This condition, also known as SNHL, is caused by inner ear damage or problems with the nerve pathways from the inner ear to the brain. This type is the most common type of permanent hearing loss.
- Tinnitus. This condition causes noises (typically ringing) in one or both ears. It affects 15%-20% of all people. It’s especially common in older people.
- Vertigo. This condition causes dizziness, making a person feel like they’re spinning around when they’re standing still. It’s usually caused by an inner ear problem.
What Hearing Treatment Options Are There?
The two main types of treatment for hearing disorders are hearing aids and, for more severe cases, cochlear implants. For patients with hearing loss but no desire to get cochlear implants, there may also be communication skills counseling.
Hearing aids are small devices that are worn in or behind the ear. They make sounds louder so that patients can hear sounds that they wouldn’t be able to hear otherwise.
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that is surgically placed in the ear of a person who is extremely hard of hearing. It has multiple parts, including a microphone to pick up sound, a speech processor, a transmitter and receiver, and an electrode array.