Audiologists are professionals who specialize in the study, evaluation and treatment of people with hearing loss. Audiologists practice in a variety of settings including medical, clinical, private practice and schools. An audiologist holds a masters or doctoral degree from an accredited university. Audiologists have special training in the prevention, identification, assessment and non-medical treatment of hearing disorders. By virtue of their training audiologists are the most qualified professionals to perform hearing tests, refer patients for medical treatment and provide hearing rehabilitation services that include hearing aids. In addition audiologists are educated and skilled in the diagnosis and treatment of dizziness and ear noises such as tinnitus.
About Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is a sudden or gradual decrease in one’s ability to hear. It occurs when there is damage in one or more of the ear’s three regions: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. Damage can be temporary or permanent and can cause mild to severe/profound hearing loss.
Hearing loss can affect all areas of one’s life and can develop at any age and can effect individuals at work, at school and at home. Hearing loss creates communication barriers and be a safety risk.
Hearing Impairments refer to hearing loss or deficits in the auditory function. They may occur in either ear or in both. A hearing loss is generally described by the type of loss and may be called hearing impairment or deafness depending on the degree.
- Conductive Hearing Loss: Results from a problem in the outer and/or middle ear that blocks the sound from traveling into the ear’s sensory nerve centers. In young children the cause is frequently fluid in the middle ear.
- Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Results from a problem in the sensory center of the inner ear and/or in the auditory nerve. Sensorineural losses typically involve both a reduction in sound level and in speech understanding.
- Mixed Hearing Loss: A combination of conductive and sensorineural losses.
- Central Hearing Loss: Occurs when auditory centers of the brain are affected. Loudness of sound is typically not affected, but understanding of speech is.
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
You might be experiencing some level of hearing loss if:
- You having difficulty following conversations involving more than two people
- People sound like they are mumbling
- You have trouble understanding children and women
- You need to turn the TV or radio up to a high volume
- You respond inappropriately in conversations
- You need to ask people to repeat themselves
- You feel stressed from straining to hear
- You feel embarrassed to meet new people
- You feel annoyed with others because you can’t understand them
- You feel isolated because you no longer want to participate in the social situations you once enjoyed
Common Causes of Hearing Loss
Problems that occur in the outer ear are usually a result of:
- earwax build
- infection of the ear canal.
Problems within the middle ear include:
- perforation of the eardrum
Problems with the middle ear can often be treated with medication or surgery. Problems with the inner ear are typically due to:
- exposure to noise
- head injuries
Other causes include:
- Medications (ototoxic drugs like antibiotics or those drugs used in chemotherapy and radiation)
- Medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, poor circulation, aging or thyroid problems
Temporary Hearing Damage and Prevention of Hearing Loss
Temporary hearing damage is the easiest type of hearing loss to treat and prevent. Temporary damage to one’s ability to hear can be avoided by reducing exposure to loud noises, wearing ear plugs or other hearing protection, having your ears cleaned by your doctor and seeing a doctor when you suspect you have an ear infection or experience a sudden loss in hearing. Left untreated, temporary hearing loss may become permanent and untreatable. Although permanent hearing loss is irreversible, hearing devices can improve how well you hear, communicate and function in society.
For more information about noise and hearing loss prevention, please visit the ASHA website.
For more information about hearing loss, please visit the ASHA website
About Balance and Dizziness
Millions of Americans have disorders involving the system of balance they describe as vertigo or dizziness. What can be difficult for both a patient and his or her doctor is that dizziness is a subjective term. That means a word like dizziness can be used by people to describe different sensations they are experiencing, but it is hard for anyone but the person experiencing the symptoms to understand or measure the nature or severity of the sensations. Another difficulty is that people tend to use different terms to describe the same kind of problem. Balance problems, dizziness, imbalance and disorders of balance are all used interchangeably.
For some people, dizziness is a feeling of unsteadiness or a spinning sensation. Others may experience extreme balance disorders that affect many aspects of their lives. Dizziness may be a fleeting sensation or the prolonged and intense symptom of a wide range of health problems that can affect a person’s independence, ability to work and quality of life. Experts believe that more than 40 percent of Americans will experience dizziness that is serious enough to see a doctor. Even dizziness that seems minor, if undiagnosed, may be a signal of underlying disorders.
Balance problems are among the most common reasons that older adults seek help from a doctor. Many people are surprised to learn that the source of their imbalance may be in their inner ears. Balance (or vestibular) problems are reported in about nine percent of the population who are 65 years of age or older. Fall-related injuries such as breaking (or fracturing) a hip are a leading cause of death and disability in older individuals. Many of these hip fractures are related to balance disorders. In addition, children who exhibit balance problems should be seen by their doctor.
Balance disorders may also lead to other problems including fatigue, difficulty walking or disinterest in everyday and leisure activities. If you or your child, parent, friend or co-worker has a balance problem, take it seriously. Talk to your doctor about what happens when you feel dizzy or lose your balance. Be as specific as possible when describing your dizziness.
A hearing test is a common diagnostic procedure for individuals experiencing dizziness, whether or not dizziness is accompanied by hearing loss.
Dizziness can be cause by:
- Inner ear or vestibular problems
- Diseases or injury of the brainstem or brain
- Cardiovascular problems such as high blood pressure or anemia
- Side effects of medications
- Bacterial or viral infections
- Vision disorders
What should you do?
Balance disorders are serious. The most important thing you can do if you think you have a balance disorder is to see an audiologist. Your audiologist may refer you to an otolaryngologist, the doctor who specializes in the ear, nose, and throat or your family physician based on his findings.
How can I help my doctor help me?
Before you visit the doctor, write down a few things before you go to your appointment. Put into words a description of your dizziness or balance problem as clearly as you can; document how often you have dizziness or balance problems; document if and how many times you have fallen and list all prescription and over-the-counter medications you use and how often you use them.
Dizziness treatments vary depending on the diagnosis of the problem.
BBPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo) does not respond to medication however is managed quite effectively in most cases using repositioning techniques.
Once the balance system has been identified as the cause of the dizziness your physician will determine if a combination of observation, physical therapy and medication are in your best interest. The doctor and the physical therapist will prescribe the best course of physical therapy for you. Medications used may include Meclizine. The proper medication for your treatment will be prescribed by your doctor.
Surgical intervention is the last resort for a balance disorder. An otolaryngologist or a neurotologist, who is a physician trained in treatments of ear disorders, will discussed the options available to you.
For more information about Dizziness and Balance, please visit the ASHA website.
Testing and Treatment
Audiologists use state of the art clinical tools and technologies to identify the nature and degree of hearing difficulty and to help determine the most effective treatments. These professionals take the time to understand your specific needs through hearing tests, diagnosis, counseling and treatment.
During your hearing test and evaluation, the audiologist will place headphones that are connected to a measuring instrument called an audiometer over your ears. The audiometer transmits a series of tones at a variety of volumes into your ears to determine the exact point or threshold at which you can hear various frequencies of sounds or tones. When you hear a tone, you will be asked to push a button or raise your hand. In addition, you will be given a Speech Discrimination Test (word recognition testing) to determine how well you understand speech at your most comfortable level of volume.
The results of your tests will be recorded on a graph called an audiogram, which the audiologist will review with you. The audiogram reflects your hearing loss in frequencies, decibels and speech understanding.
Diagnosis and testing of hearing loss is designed to determine the degree, configuration, and possible cause of the hearing loss. The degree of hearing loss is your level, or the severity, of hearing loss as measured by these tests. Degrees of hearing loss range from mild to severe or profound. Identifying the cause of hearing loss refers to locating the point in the auditory system where hearing loss has occurred. Damage in one or more of the ear’s three regions is what causes hearing loss. Configuration of hearing loss is the overall picture of hearing ability, at what frequencies hearing loss occurs, whether hearing loss is progressive or stable, whether hearing loss is the same or different in each ear and one’s ability to understand speech.
Audiologists help patients and their families adjust to hearing loss not just through diagnosis and treatment, but also through personal counseling designed to help patients understand their unique hearing loss.
The treatment will depend on the cause and type of hearing loss. Treatments range from correcting an underlying problem such as removing ear wax, treating an infection and helping you understand your hearing loss to more permanent solutions ranging from wearing hearing aids or assistive listening devices to medical or surgical intervention if necessary. Learning strategies and techniques for coping with reduced hearing is also an effective treatment option that we provide to our patients.
For information about hearing testing, please visit the ASHA website
Hearing Aid FAQ
What is a hearing aid?
A hearing aid is a small electronic device that you wear in or behind your ear. It makes some sounds louder so that a person with hearing loss can listen, communicate, and participate more fully in daily activities. A hearing aid can help people hear more in both quiet and noisy situations.
A hearing aid has three basic parts: a microphone, amplifier, and speaker. The hearing aid receives sound through a microphone, which converts the sound waves to electrical signals and sends them to an amplifier. The amplifier increases the power of the signals and then sends them to the ear through a speaker.
How can hearing aids help?
Hearing aids are primarily useful in improving hearing and speech comprehension of people who have hearing loss that results from damage to the small sensory cells in the inner ear, called hair cells. This type of hearing loss is called sensorineural hearing loss and can occur as a result of disease, aging or injury from noise or certain medicines.
Hearing aids magnify sound vibrations entering the ear. Surviving hair cells detect the larger vibrations and convert them into neural signals that are passed along to the brain. The greater the damage to a person’s hair cells, the more severe the hearing loss, and the greater the hearing aid amplification needed to make up the difference. However, there are practical limits to the amount of amplification hearing aids can provide. In addition, if the inner ear is too damaged, even large vibrations will not be converted into neural signals. In this situation, hearing aids may have a limited effect.
How can I find out if I need hearing aids?
If you think you might have hearing loss and could benefit from wearing hearing aids, call an audiologist or visit your family physician. If the initial examination indicates a need for an ear specialist then you may be referred to an otolaryngologist. An otolaryngologist is a physician who specializes in ear, nose and throat disorders and will investigate the cause of the hearing loss.
How do hearing aids work?
Most hearing aids available today are digital. Digital aids convert sound waves into numerical codes, similar to the binary code of a computer, before amplifying them. Because the code also includes information about a sound’s pitch or loudness, the aid can be specially programmed to amplify some frequencies more than others. Digital circuitry gives an audiologist more flexibility in adjusting the aid to a user’s needs and to certain listening environments. These aids also can be programmed to focus on sounds coming from a specific direction. Digital circuitry can be used in all types of hearing aids.
Which hearing aids will work best for me?
The hearing aids that will work best for you depend on the kind and severity of your hearing loss.
You and your audiologist should select a hearing aid based on four primary considerations:
- Your level of hearing loss.
- Your lifestyle.
- Your personal preferences.
- Your budget.
A hearing aid will not restore your normal hearing or, if you are of a more mature age, allow you to hear as you did when you were a teenager. With practice, however, a hearing aid will increase your awareness of sounds and their sources and improve your ability to understand conversations.
What questions should I ask before buying a hearing aid?
Before you buy a hearing aid, ask your audiologist these important questions:
- What features would be most useful for meeting my lifestyle requirements?
- What is the total cost of the hearing aids? Do the benefits of newer technologies outweigh the higher costs?
- Is there a trial period to test the hearing aids? (Most manufacturers allow a 30- to 60-day trial period during which aids can be returned for a refund.) What fees are nonrefundable if the aids are returned after the trial period?
- How long is the warranty? Can it be extended? Does the warranty cover future maintenance and repairs?
- Can the audiologist make adjustments and provide servicing and minor repairs? Will loaner aids be provided when repairs are needed?
- What instruction does the audiologist provide?