Audiologists are healthcare professionals who work with patients to diagnose, manage, and treat hearing loss, tinnitus, and balance disorders. Audiologists also provide rehabilitation services like auditory training and speechreading to help patients adjust to and manage their hearing loss. They counsel patients and families on hearing health and prevention of hearing loss. Audiologists work with patients across the lifespan in settings like hospitals, clinics, schools, industry, and private practice.
Diagnosing Hearing Issues
An audiologist’s work begins with a comprehensive evaluation of a patient’s hearing and balance function. This involves taking a full case history, performing an otoscopic examination of the ear canal and eardrum, conducting diagnostic tests like pure tone audiometry and speech audiometry to map hearing sensitivity, assessing speech recognition ability, testing vestibular function through the videonystagmography (VNG) test, and more. The audiologic evaluation determines the type and degree of hearing or balance disorder and aids the audiologist in setting up an appropriate treatment plan.
Treating Hearing Loss and Auditory Disorders
Audiologists treat hearing loss and auditory disorders through various rehabilitative therapies. For sensorineural hearing loss arising from inner ear or auditory nerve dysfunction, audiologists fit and dispense hearing aids, programming them to meet a patient’s specific needs. They also provide auditory training to help patients maximize the benefits of amplification devices. For conductive hearing loss caused by outer and middle ear issues, treatment options include medication, surgery, or hearing aids with bone conduction components. Audiologists educate patients on realistic expectations and adjustment to life with hearing loss.
In cases of balance disorders like benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), audiologists perform repositioning maneuvers like the Epley maneuver to treat vertigo. They also recommend vestibular rehabilitation exercises to help strengthen balance function. For infants or children with risk factors for hearing loss, audiologists conduct newborn hearing screening and follow-up diagnostic assessments. Early identification and intervention are key to preventing speech and language delays.
Audiologists as Part of a Larger Team
Audiologists work collaboratively with otolaryngologists, hearing instrument specialists, speech-language pathologists, and teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing. They help determine candidacy for cochlear implants and provide post-implant auditory rehabilitation. Audiologists also provide cerumen (earwax) management, evaluate hearing protection needs, provide occupational hearing conservation services, and more. Many audiologists have expertise in tinnitus retraining therapy.
Prevention and Advocacy
In addition to diagnosing and treating hearing disorders, audiologists play a key role in prevention and advocacy. They educate the public on preventable causes of hearing loss like excessive noise exposure. Audiologists advocate for increased accessibility for those with hearing loss, such as closed captioning and hearing induction loops. They counsel patients on strategies for improved communication and provide family-centered care. Audiologists stay current on the latest technological advances in hearing aids, implants, and assistive listening devices.
Becoming an Audiologist
Individuals wanting to work as an audiologist must obtain their Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) degree, which takes 4 years to complete after earning a bachelor’s degree. This degree program includes courses covering topics like anatomy, physiology, hearing disorders, assessment, treatment, ethics, and clinical practicum experiences. Most programs include 1-2 years of supervised clinical rotations where students evaluate patients and provide audiological services under an experienced preceptor. After graduation, the student needs to obtain a license which involves passing a national exam like the Praxis Audiology exam. Students also complete a Clinical Fellowship Year under the guidance of a mentor audiologist before they can work independently. By providing comprehensive hearing and balance care, audiologists improve communication ability, cognitive function, physical and emotional health, and overall well-being. Exploring this complex and rewarding field provides insights into the tremendous value audiologists offer in enhancing the quality of life for those with hearing and vestibular disorders. Through early identification, individualized treatment plans, and patient education, audiologists fulfill their goal of optimizing patients’ communication and fostering fuller participation in daily activities.