Audiology: What you need to know

By Emily Stewart. Published on August 09th, 2017

If you’ve ever suffered from a hearing disorder, or even blocked ears, you can appreciate how nerve-wracking a visit to the audiologist is. While the term “audiology” is derived quite simply from the Latin term, “to hear” (audīre), a good audiologist will not only test their patients for hearing, balance, and other ear disorders, but will also offer sound advice and compassionate counsel. If you’re suffering from any kind of hearing loss or ear discomfort, do not hesitate to schedule an ear test. This article summarises everything you need to know.

Big Ears Image
Photo by Gary Bendig on Unsplash

Who an audiologist is

A clinically-approved audiologist will have either a master’s or doctorate degree (Aud.D.) in the study of hearing, balance, and other related disorders. Such practitioners are also called “hearing doctors” or “ear specialists.” It is important to differentiate audiologists from ENT: ear, nose, and throat doctors. In some cases, like sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), an audiologist may refer a patient directly to an ENT. Interestingly, many audiologists also have counselling certifications and experience. Hearing issues can be concerning and serious matters. A proper audiologist will offer empathetic and honest advice to their patients, helping them to better understand their emotions and make educated choices on treatment.

Where audiologists practice

Most audiologists see their clients in standard healthcare facilities, like hospitals, physician’s offices, and pharmacies. However, some audiologists also practice out of specialised audiology clinics. Such hearing centres often contain a greater range of testing materials and may conduct scientific studies.

How an audiologist tests

Audiologists use a variety of devices and procedures to test the vitality of clients’ ears. Like all doctors, an audiologist will want to see a thorough medical history. Uniquely, many audiologists request that you bring a close friend or family member to the hearing test. They may be used as a hearing medium: certain ear tests measure your ability to recognise foreign versus familiar voices. There are three major types of audiology exams, although modern science has produced a wide variety of renditions. An audiologist will likely conduct a series of one or more variations of the three major test types. First is an otoscopy, wherein an audiologist views the ear canal through a special lens and magnifying glass. They’re searching for ear wax, blockages, and similar problems. Second is tympanometry, which requires the audiologist to place a light pressure directly on the ear drum, testing for response. Finally, an audiologist might do one or both types of audiometry. These tests measure the conduction or air and bone. During audiometry tests patients sit in a soundproof room. They may also be placed with a vibrating device behind their ear to test the physical responsiveness of the ear canal. No matter the type, an audiology test should be painless (unless you are being tested for or show signs of ear sensitivity). Tests usually last around twenty minutes. The results are used to investigate a variety of hearing-related factors, from noise sensitivity to discrepancies between ears.

What audiology tests say

Just like the patients who request them, the results of audiology tests are varied. An audiologist might find the ear is blocked by cerumen, ear wax. While normally beneficial, a heavy buildup of cerumen can cause tinnitus (ringing in the ears). In the case of hearing loss, an audiologist may determine that hearing aids are the best treatment to help you listen, balance, and live a vibrant life. Not all audiologists dispense hearing aids; some might refer you to a hearing aid specialist. Regardless of who administers the fitting, there are a myriad of hearing devices: hearing amplifiers; hearing aid machines; small hearing aids; behind the ear hearing aids (also knowns as "BTE hearing aids"); and more. Watch this website for future blogs about types of hearing aids. Even patients who do not need their ears to be unblocked or fitted with an hearing aid should receive their audiologist’s recommendations on how to improve hearing. From adequate sleep to a gentle water cleanse of the ear, audiologists provide a personalised and holistic explanation of how hearing loss occurs, prevention, and maintenance.

Why treatment matters

Unfortunately, most of us take our capacity to listen and be heard for granted. Not only does suffering from hearing impairment have a serious affect on your ability to communicate with loved ones, but may also detrimentally impact your career, independence, and development of relationships. If an issue is detected, you’re likely to suffer some emotional repercussions. Regular and timely visits to proper ear specialists help you to analyse changes in your hearing, discuss options with compassion, mitigate any ear impairment, and recommend the best home or medical course of treatment.

Emily Stewart calls herself a “Pi-Fit-Yogi,” teaching yoga, Pilates, and blended classes all around the world. You can reach her at ahumandoing.org.

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