What is Audiology?
Audiology is a branch of medical science that deals with the study of hearing, balance, and related disorders. Audiologists are healthcare professionals who specialize in diagnosing, treating, and preventing hearing loss and other auditory disorders. They use various diagnostic tests and procedures to evaluate the extent and severity of hearing loss and design customized treatment plans for their patients.
Audiology has become increasingly important in recent years, as the hearing loss has become a growing concern due to a range of factors including aging, noise exposure, and genetic predisposition.
Overview and Definition
Audiology is a field of scientific study that focuses on the examination of hearing, balance, and associated disorders. Audiologists play a crucial role in both the treatment and prevention of hearing loss, utilizing a variety of testing techniques to evaluate the individual's hearing sensitivity. Upon identifying the degree and location of hearing loss, audiologists offer recommendations for interventions or rehabilitation.
Apart from diagnosing audiology and vestibular pathologies, audiologists can specialize in addressing tinnitus, hyperacusis, misophonia, auditory processing disorders, cochlear implantation, and hearing aid use. Audiologists are equipped to provide hearing healthcare services throughout an individual's lifespan, from infancy to the end of life. With hearing loss being a growing concern due to several factors, the significance of audiology has only increased over the years. (1)
Education and Training
To become an audiologist, an individual typically needs to earn a Doctor of Audiology (AuD) degree, although some audiologists may hold a Master's degree in Audiology. A Bachelor's degree in a related field, such as communication sciences and disorders or biology, is usually required for admission to an AuD program.
During their AuD program, students will typically complete coursework in areas such as anatomy and physiology of the auditory system, hearing aids and assistive devices, diagnostic audiology, communication disorders, and hearing conservation. They will also participate in supervised clinical experiences to gain practical experience working with patients.
After completing their degree, audiologists are required to complete a fellowship or externship year, during which they receive additional supervised clinical experience. Audiologists must also pass licensing and accreditation boards and fulfill continuing education credits to maintain their licensure.
In addition to formal education and training, audiologists must possess strong communication skills, empathy, attention to detail, and problem-solving abilities to effectively diagnose and treat patients with hearing and balance disorders. (2,3)
Practicing as an Audiologist
Audiologists possess the expertise to diagnose, manage, and treat a range of hearing tinnitus and balance disorders. They are equipped to dispense, manage, and rehabilitate hearing aids, as well as evaluate the suitability for and map hearing implants such as cochlear, middle ear, and bone conduction implants. Furthermore, audiologists aid in developing and executing personal and industrial hearing safety programs, newborn hearing screening programs, and school hearing screening programs.
They also provide customized earplugs and other hearing protection devices to prevent hearing loss. Audiologists are trained to examine peripheral vestibular disorders arising from inner ear pathologies and offer treatment for certain vestibular and balance disorders like Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV).
Audiology is a field that merges advanced technology and medical science to develop solutions for hearing or balance disorders. Audiologists are professionals who specialize in this field and are responsible for managing and rehabilitating hearing and balance disorders. They employ the latest technology and medical practices to diagnose and treat patients with hearing and balance issues. (4)
What Does an Audiologist Do?
Audiology involves a range of procedures that are performed to evaluate and manage hearing and balance disorders. Some of the procedures that are commonly performed by audiologists include:
- Pure-tone audiometry: Audiologists use a behavioral test called pure-tone audiometry to measure an individual's hearing sensitivity, which involves both the peripheral and central auditory systems. This test determines the softest sound that a person can hear at least 50% of the time and is known as the pure-tone threshold (PTTs).
- Speech audiometry: Speech audiometry is a type of hearing test that is used to evaluate an individual's ability to understand speech. During a speech audiometry test, a person listens to a recorded or live speech at various volume levels and then repeats back or identifies the words they hear. The test helps to identify any hearing loss or problems with speech discrimination that a person may be experiencing.
- Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) testing: The otoacoustic emission test (OAE) is a type of hearing test that evaluates the function of hair cells in the inner ear by measuring the sound generated within the cochlea in response to stimulation. OAE testing is commonly used to screen infants and other special populations for hearing problems, as well as for other diagnostic purposes.
- Auditory brainstem response (ABR) testing: The auditory brainstem response (ABR) test is a painless and safe way to evaluate how the hearing nerves and brain respond to sounds. This test provides healthcare professionals with valuable information about potential hearing loss in individuals.
- Balance testing: These tests evaluate a person's ability to maintain balance and may include tests such as videonystagmography (VNG) or electronystagmography (ENG).
- Hearing aid fitting: The hearing aid fitting appointment typically takes an hour to complete. It usually starts with a sound test where the audiologist places a thin tube near your eardrum to measure your reaction to loud and soft sounds. After that, the hearing aid is fitted while the tube is still in place.
- Cochlear implant mapping: During the adjustment and programming process of a cochlear implant, patients usually require the assistance of a specialist in cochlear implants and an audiologist. This process is referred to as cochlear implant mapping, which involves creating programs (MAPs) to optimize the performance of the cochlear implant.
- Tinnitus management: Tinnitus management is the process of evaluating and treating the perception of sound in the ears or head that does not come from an external source. Tinnitus can be perceived as ringing, buzzing, hissing, or other sounds, and can be a persistent or occasional issue for individuals.
Overall, the procedures performed by audiologists are aimed at diagnosing and managing hearing and balance disorders to improve a person's quality of life. (5,6)