Perhaps you have heard the term before and have a general idea of the science of audiology. An audiologist often works with ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors to help patients with specific hearing or balance problems. When your primary care physician or ENT cannot diagnose or treat the cause of these issues, they may recommend you visit a specialist to understand your condition better. But how can their expertise help, and what does an audiologist do?
These doctors can get to the cause of numerous problems that might be affecting your hearing or balance and offer treatment options that can aid in restoring your abilities similar to how they used to be. In this post, we’ll explore more about what an audiologist does and help you determine if a visit to one of these professionals might help you.
The Science of Audiology
Audiology is the study of hearing and balance disorders. An audiologist is trained to diagnose and treat conditions in the ear that specifically affect this motor and sensory concern. Many people confuse audiologists with ENT doctors, who treat common ear, nose and throat conditions. The primary difference is that audiologists have significantly more training on how the ears impact hearing and balance.
While every medical professional receives a base education in medical concepts, specialists focus on specific concerns and treatment methodologies. ENT specialists offer a broader range of services but might not be qualified to treat your condition if you’ve experienced recent hearing loss, have difficulty maintaining balance or have a genetic disorder. You may be referred to an audiologist if your primary care physician believes your problem requires their skillset.
What Education Is Needed to Become an Audiologist?
People can become practicing audiologists with a Master’s degree, but most earn a doctorate of science or philosophy in the specialization of audiology. They often collaborate with other doctors, such as ENTs. You can also find them in hospitals, schools, government offices, and clinics. Some audiologists work with military veterans to diagnose injuries sustained during a patient’s years of service.
In addition to earning their degrees, audiologists have the option to pursue certifications that show their depth of knowledge in their field. An audiologist’s educational pursuits are perpetual since they need to continue completing courses to remain up to date with the most current knowledge and treatment methods.
What Conditions Can an Audiologist Treat?
Since audiologists focus on balance and hearing, anything affecting these two skills may require you to have an appointment in a hearing clinic. They are equipped to treat numerous conditions and may find underlying causes for your symptoms that other doctors could not diagnose. You may be referred to an audiologist if you suffer from any of the following:
Tinnitus is often the result of some form of inner ear damage. People who suffer from it hear ringing, buzzing or high-pitched noises that don’t go away on their own. Additionally, stress can cause this condition to worsen, prohibiting a patient from living normally.
This condition is often confused with dizziness. The difference is that people with vertigo feel like the environment is spinning around them and may have trouble with their balance. Many cases of vertigo may reveal ear damage, and audiologists can explore treatment options.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
This type of hearing loss comes on suddenly and may occur in a single ear. It’s often accompanied by tinnitus and has no specific cause. Most people with sensorineural hearing loss are between 50 to 60 years old, but people of any age can suffer from the condition.
Hidden Hearing Loss
The term hidden hearing loss refers to diminished hearing capability even though you pass traditional hearing tests. In many cases, people with hidden hearing loss have difficulty picking up voices and other sounds in the presence of background noise.
Genetic Hearing Loss Conditions
Some hearing loss is due to our genetics, and audiologists can treat multiple genetic conditions that can cause hearing loss at any life stage. The hearing loss could be in one or both ears and require hearing aids and other assistive technology to treat.
Cytomegalovirus is a disease that can cause temporary hearing loss and other medical problems. When patients aren’t aware they have the disease, the hearing loss may become permanent. An audiologist can diagnose this condition and suggest how to improve the patient’s hearing.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Certain careers and recreational activities expose people to loud noise, and as a result, you might experience hearing loss over time or due to a single injury. An audiologist can determine the cause of your hearing loss and help you restore it with a hearing assistive device.
Auditory Processing Disorders
An auditory processing disorder is a condition that affects how your brain perceives sound. Your ears may be perfectly capable of hearing normally but aren’t translating information effectively to your brain. This can make it challenging to understand what other people are saying or to form responses in your head.
How an Audiologist Helps Patients
When most people think of hearing loss, they assume a hearing aid is needed. While these devices are often used to treat hearing loss, they aren’t the only option an audiologist might recommend. Some other treatment options include the following:
Often used in addition to assistive hearing devices, aural rehabilitative therapy helps patients learn techniques to use when communicating with others. The skills learned during rehabilitation help those with hearing loss participate in conversations more easily.
Some patients may be better suited to receive an implant, which stimulates the cochlear nerve, rather than a hearing aid which sits inside the ear. The advantage of cochlear implants is that they always relay sound to the nerve inside the ear that communicates with the brain. It’s an option for patients who haven’t had much success with other hearing aids in the past.
Telephone Assistive Devices
An audiologist can prescribe special devices that someone with hearing loss can use to translate conversations over the phone. This is especially helpful when these individuals have more difficulty hearing over the phone than in person. These devices work by increasing the volume of the conversation or translating it into text so that you can read what’s being said.
An audiologist can review multiple hearing aid options with you to find one that works well with your specific hearing condition. With advancements in technology, there are numerous hearing aid types that can help improve your hearing capabilities. These devices are useful, but they’re often used with other treatment methods to help people function despite permanent hearing loss.
Is an Audiologist a Specialist?
An audiologist is a specialist who has completed special training in the field of audiology. Individuals considering this field need to obtain a Master’s degree or higher to practice audiology. Additionally, they’ll need to complete their training by working with patients that suffer from a wide variety of hearing and balance disorders.
Do I Need a Referral to See an Audiologist?
While it’s common for ENTs and primary care physicians to provide referrals to audiologists, you don’t need a referral to schedule an appointment. Depending on your age and health insurance, the cost of diagnostic testing and treatment options may be covered when you visit an audiologist.
When Should I Visit an Audiologist?
Accepting a change in your hearing abilities can be difficult for some. However, seeing an audiologist is a significant step toward understanding what is causing your hearing loss and how it can be treated. If any of the following symptoms apply to you, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with one of these professionals:
- You experience dizzy spells or feel like the room is spinning around you
- You’re having difficulty with normal motor functions due to balance issues
- You notice that you need to increase the volume on the radio or TV to hear most programming
- You often ask other people to repeat what they said because you missed important information
- Noisy environments make it more difficult for you to hear properly
At Robillard Hearing Centres, our team includes highly respected audiologists and hearing instrument specialists that can help you better understand your hearing loss and the condition that may be causing it. We’re passionate about finding treatment options that work for you and can help you lead a more normal life despite hearing difficulties. Check out our online hearing test, or contact us today to schedule an in-clinic appointment.