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Hearing Tests / Audiology

The study of audiology trains medical specialists to help patients overcome or accept hearing loss issues, identify and rehabilitate balance problems and dispense hearing aids and other hearing systems.

What's an audiologist?

Our ears are certainly amazing. They can hear sounds as soft as a cat's purr or as loud as a rocket blasting off. Many sounds happening at once bombard our ears, yet they can focus on a single sound.

But, what if you ears have difficulty deciphering these sounds? According to the Los Angeles Times, "Hearing loss is common, but the perception that hearing loss is only caused by aging is incorrect. More than 36 million American have hearing loss. Changing lifestyle habits, and treating a variety of health conditions can help to prevent hearing loss."

The audiologist uses audiometers and other computerized devices to test your hearing, determine the extent of hearing loss or damage and identify the cause. These tests deliver acoustic stimuli of specific frequencies to determine the patient's hearing for each frequency. Patients sit in soundproof booths and listen for sounds and repeat words they hear. Test results are plotted on a graph called an audiogram.

After the assessment, the audiologist can find the best options for treatment and work along with doctors, usually in the otolaryngology (ENT) field. Audiologists fit and dispense hearing aids to patients who are candidates for this treatment. These technicians can counsel patients and family members on the proper ways to listen and communicate with others and even with sign language or lip reading. No matter what hearing treatment is prescribed, patients visit audiologists throughout the year to access and keep up their treatment plan.

Balance disorders

Your ears have another important purpose: keeping your balance. The semicircular canals located in your inner ear are not part of your hearing mechanism, but they maintain balance, making sure you don't topple over. Damage to the vestibular system happens with diseases, age, vascular accidents and from the use of vestibulotoxic medications.

When this dysfunction occurs, the audiologist tests the vestibular system and helps patients in rehabilitative ways to combat imbalance and dizziness. Audiologists can perform a battery of tests, called video nystagmography (VNG), where they monitor eye movements to see how the eyes react with movement, light motions or air puffed into the ear canal. Patients usually wear special goggles that record their eye movements and help diagnose inner ear disorders in regard to balance. Most specialists are looking for disorders such as Meniere's disease, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, acoustic neuromas (benign growths of the balance nerve) and superior semicircular canal dehiscence (SCD), a rare disorder where a person's own voice can induce a heightened imbalance.

Finding an audiologist

Practitioners who study to become an audiologist engage in a program that studies normal hearing with the evaluation and treatment of hearing disorders, and many study balance problems as well. A college program begins with undergraduate studies focusing in linguistics, phonetics, speech, biological sciences and psychology.

The degree program for audiology has evolved over the past few years. Before, audiology was not a specific major in college, but students could take classes in audiology and graduate with a masters is medical studies or communications and then apply for a certificate of clinical competence in audiology (CCC-A) to work as technicians.

Now, several universities offer a doctor of audiology (AuD) degree, which trains students specifically for entry in the clinical practice. The CCC-A certificate is no longer required. Audiologists are certified by the American Board of Audiology and can achieve specialty certifications for cochlear implants and pediatric audiology.

Audiologists work alongside doctors and other professionals, and you can find them in hospitals, clinics, speech centers, geriatric residential facilities, ENT doctors' offices and private practices. Some audiologists work in research of hearing disorders and even design hearing aids and other equipment, such as cochlear implants. This is a field of study with much hope for the deaf, where a device implanted surgically can deliver electrical impulses to the auditory nerve, regaining hearing for some.

When you search for an audiologist in your area seek a person with patience and compassion. This profession requires a person who is supportive not only to the patient, but also to the families. Problem-solving and critical thinking skills are a plus, as audiologists must work diligently to try to solve hearing and balance issues.