October is National Audiology Awareness Month and National Protect Your Hearing Month. These two go hand in hand because an Audiologist plays an important role in helping to educate the public on the importance of protecting their hearing. Unfortunately, most people don't know what an Audiologist is or does until it is too late.
So what is an Audiologist anyway?
An Audiologist is the primary healthcare provider who evaluates, diagnoses, and treats hearing and balance disorders in adults and children.
But that's not all.
An Audiologist will assist in designing and implementing hearing conservation programs, newborn hearing screening programs, provide hearing rehabilitation, auditory training, counseling, assess and treat individuals with tinnitus, perform surgical monitoring, engage in research activities to further the field, work on cochlear implant teams, assess and treat individuals with balance disorders, and prescribe, fit, and dispense hearing aids and other hearing technology.
Audiologists now must earn a doctor of audiology (Au.D.) degree in order to be licensed to practice in all states and Puerto Rico. Some Audiologists may also earn a doctor of philosophy degree (Ph.D.) or doctor of science (Sc.D.) degree in hearing and balance sciences.
Audiologists can treat all ages, from infants to the elderly. Most types of hearing loss are treated or managed by an Audiologist.
Audiologists work in a variety of settings, including private practice, hospitals, ENT offices, clinics, universities, Veterans' Administration (VA) hospitals, schools, government, and the military.
While some people may utilize the services of an Audiologist their whole life, most people aren't aware of what an Audiologist can do for them until a serious hearing problem occurs. However, many of these serious problems can be avoided by seeking assistance from an Audiolgist sooner.
When should you see an Audiologist?
Audiologists exist to help you. They are passionate about preserving hearing when possible, or managing a hearing loss if it occurs. It is recommended that adults and children have their hearing evaluated by an Audioligist every 2 to 3 years, or immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Difficulty understanding or following conversation
- Difficulty hearing the television or when on the phone
- Fullness, pain, or pressure in the ear
- Ringing, buzzing or other noises in the ears
- Dizziness or imbalance
- Significant exposure to loud noise
- Your friends or family complain that you have a hearing problem
- Difficulty with the clarity of certain voices
Annual hearing exams are recommended for those who are consistently exposed to loud noises in the workplace or recreationally, as well as those with a family history of hearing loss.
If you work around loud noises, such as factory workers, mechanics, musicians, airline workers, construction workers, farmers, or hunters, it is important that you speak to an Audiologist about hearing conservation. If you work in loud environments such as these and your employer does not address hearing protection in the workplace, an Audiologist can help to provide the protection you need to prevent future hearing loss.
What are some misconceptions about hearing loss?
Many people don't seek the services of an Audiologist because of the misinformation that is out there about hearing loss. Hearing helps us engage with the world around us. It connects us to people and experiences, provides comfort, and protection.
Audiologists strive to educate people about the importance of hearing by expelling some of these common misconceptions.
“I'm too young to have a hearing loss or to need hearing aids.”
Hearing loss affects people of all ages, from infants to the elderly. It is estimated that 65% of Americans with hearing loss are under the age of 65. While hearing loss is a common problem for the elderly, young people are not exempt.
“I will just wait until I'm old to worry about it because with hearing aids I will be able to hear perfectly again.”
While hearing aid technology has improved greatly in recent years, and continues to improve, hearing aids only aid in hearing. They do not restore your hearing to normal. Although hearing aids will help, your hearing will never be the same again. What you do or don't do now to protect your hearing will affect your future hearing forever.
“I don't want to see an Audiologist because they just want to sell me hearing aids.”
For most Audiologists, selling hearing aids is a small portion of what they do in their practice. They are not salesmen/saleswomen.
The goal of an Audiologist is to help manage and treat the patient's hearing loss.
If hearing aids are the best course of action for treatment, that is what they will recommend. If not, other treatment options will be discussed. Hearing aids alone are seldom the only answer to your hearing problems. An Audiologist can provide individual counseling, auditory training and education of communication strategies,as well as extensive follow-up.
If you see an Audiologist and you do not feel like they have your best interest in mind, see a different Audiologist. If your hearing problem is outside the scope of what an Audiologist can treat, they will refer you to the appropriate specialist.
Why should I see an Audiologist?
Untreated hearing loss can result in negative social, psychological, and health effects. There has been a lot of recent research showing that untreated hearing loss can cause depression, anxiety, an increased risk of falls, memory impairment, and even dementia. Hearing loss can also affect our earning potential and social enjoyment.
Audiologists are the only university-trained professionals who are specifically trained to assess, diagnose, and treat hearing loss. Audiologists are doctors trained to use advanced equipment and evaluation procedures to accurately and comprehensively test hearing. They are by far the most qualified professionals to help you with your hearing disorder.
Many Audiologists are also trained in the assessment and treatment of balance disorders, tinnitus, and hyperacusis. They provide counseling and education of hearing loss prevention and protection.
Audiologists are not the same as Hearing Instrument Specialists (HIS). What sets them apart from a HIS is the minimum amount of education and training required. While Audiologists hold a 4-year post-graduate Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) degree, Hearing Instrument Specialists' minimum requirement is often a high school diploma, a brief apprenticeship under another HIS, and a passed licensing exam.
The scope of practice for a HIS is much more limited than an Audiologist. They perform basic hearing tests for the purpose of selling hearing aids. They perform hearing aid fittings, earmold impressions, and hearing aid repairs and adjustments.
Many Hearing Instrument Specialists work in a private practice or retail hearing aid setting. While many Hearing Instrument Specialists are very good at what they do, their evaluation of hearing disorders is not comprehensive.
Choosing an Audiologist should be a similar process to choosing any other healthcare professional you might see. They should be able to communicate well, offer comprehensive evaluation and care of your hearing, have convenient clinic locations and hours, offer a diverse selection of hearing aids, demonstrate knowledge of hearing aid and hearing management options, and take the time to explain these options with you. Overall, you should choose an Audiologist who you enjoy working with to help you hear your best.
Feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions about choosing an Audiologist.