Audiology and Ear Doctors
Audiology is the study of hearing and its disorders. While an ear, nose and throat doctor (also known as an otolaryngologist or an ENT) may diagnose many ear problems and disorders, it is an audiologist who performs hearing exams, administers hearing tests, and prescribes assistive technologies such as hearing aids and cochlear implants.
WHAT IS AN AUDIOLOGIST?
An audiologist is a doctor who is specifically trained in examining and treating the auditory and vestibular systems of the ear. This makes audiologists the go-to professionals for the identification and assessment of hearing loss, the diagnosis and treatment of hearing disorders, and the monitoring and correction of balance problems related to the inner-ear. Whereas in the past, Masters work was often considered sufficient preparation for clinical practice, it is now the case that any individual who is seeking state licensure in the field must obtain a Doctor of Audiology degree (Au.D.), which combines general studies of anatomy and physiology with specialized curriculums covering topics such as acoustics, neurology, electrophysiology, and sign language.
An audiologist will also be professionally trained in the areas of counseling, therapy, and assistive devices such as the hearing aid and the cochlear implant. As with most specialized practitioners, doctors who have completed their degrees in audiology are required to pass state and national examinations in order to become properly certified.
WHAT DOES AN AUDIOLOGIST DO?
The general concern of an audiologist is the monitoring of hearing ability and the hands-on participation in the mitigation of hearing loss, including the preventative treatment of future hearing damage. An audiologist will generally begin by screening individuals for apparent hearing loss, followed – if necessary – by more thorough evaluations. Through the administration of hearing tests, and with the help of devices such as the audiometer and audiogram, an audiologist can evaluate the range and magnitude of hearing damage deterioration, allowing him to recommend specific treatment plans for each patient he sees.
Depending upon the extent, type, and cause of any identified hearing dissipation, an audiologist can recommend a hearing aid, cochlear implants, or other corrective surgery to address the particular patient’s problems. For less severe or more temporary issues, an audiologist can prescribe sound therapy treatments or a simple change of daily environment aimed at reducing exposure to destructive noise. Regardless of the chosen plan of approach, an audiologist remains the patient’s primary contact and provider of hearing-related care throughout, overseeing the adjustment and recovery periods and altering the treatment schedule where necessary.
WHO NEEDS AN AUDIOLOGIST?
While individuals who are already deaf or hard of hearing, or who already feel that they might be suffering from severe hearing damage, are the most critically in need of an audiology consultation, anyone who is concerned about their ears or auditory protection can benefit from an expert medical examination. It is extremely common for the initial stages of hearing loss to go ignored or simply undetected by the average person, and the simplicity of a basic screening makes preliminary evaluations well worth the minimal effort they require. The smallest and most dismissible abnormalities in perception can often be symptoms of larger, systematic failures of the auditory system, and – as with any medical disorder – the sooner a problem is identified, the quicker and more effectively hearing loss can be addressed. Even for an individual in possession of uncompromised hearing ability, the local audiologist can be an indispensable resource for information on auditory protection, and the prevention of future damage and deterioration.
HOW CAN I FIND AN AUDIOLOGIST AND LEARN MORE?
Organizations such as the American Academy for Audiology and the Audiology Foundation of America are good sources for preliminary investigation and advice, but there is no substitute for a one-on-one discussion with a practicing hearing professional. 1-888-HEAR-MORE can direct you to the best working professionals in your area and arrange for an informational consultation and preliminary screening.