Audiologist: Your Inner Ear & Hearing Therapist
What is an audiologist?
An audiologist is hearing therapist who specializes in preventing, diagnosing and treating hearing and balance problems in people of all ages. Audiologists use technology and other nonsurgical procedures to manage ear-related disorders, including age-related hearing loss and inner ear conditions. Audiologists also provide referrals for advanced medical and surgical care.
An audiologist typically:
Reviews and evaluates a patient’s health history, hearing, and balance
Identifies hearing loss, balance or vestibular disorders, and other ear-related problems
Screens newborns, children, and elderly patients for hearing problems
Selects, fits and dispenses hearing aids
Assists with cochlear implant programs and surgical monitoring
Helps people cope with profound hearing loss through lip reading and sign language
Provides hearing and balance rehabilitation, hearing conservation programs, and training to improve listening skills
Evaluates and treats central auditory processing disorders and tinnitus
Providers referrals to doctors and surgeons as needed
Works closely with a patient’s entire medical team, as well as with parents, teachers, special educators, and other school professionals
An audiologist may also be known as a hearing therapist. Some audiologists pursue training and licensure as speech-language pathologists, designated SLP-Aud.
Who should see an audiologist?
Many people see an audiologist when they experience signs of hearing loss. In adults, these signs tend to develop gradually with age. If your doctor is concerned about the results of a hearing screening, she may refer you to an audiologist for a complete hearing evaluation. However, hearing loss can occur at any age. Anyone who has concerns about their hearing or their child’s hearing should request a hearing screening or see an audiologist.
In addition, people who suffer from dizziness, vertigo, or other problems with equilibrium may see an audiologist. In many cases, these problems are related to inner ear disorders that often respond to rehabilitation therapy with an audiologist.
When should you see an audiologist?
You should see an audiologist if you or your child shows signs or behaviors consistent with hearing loss, such as:
Asking people to repeat what they have said
Turning up the volume on the television or radio
Problems hearing people on the phone or hearing conversations
Frequently misunderstanding people when they are speaking to you
Responding to questions with answers that do not make sense or match the question
Childhood speech problems, or your child seems to talk differently from his or her peers
Struggle with schoolwork or having problems in school
In addition to hearing problems, see an audiologist if you or your child has ear pain, balance or coordination problems, or complains of noise other people cannot hear.
What does an audiologist treat?
In some cases, an audiologist works independently to treat certain hearing and balance disorders. In other cases, audiologists work as part of a patient’s healthcare team, which may include neurologists and otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat doctors, or ENT). An audiologist treats conditions and diseases that involve hearing, the inner ear, and the vestibular (balance) system including:
Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) including hearing loss from cumulative environmental noise over a lifetime, loss of inner ear hearing receptors, and hearing loss associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes
Auditory processing disorders (APD) including auditory discrimination (distinguishing separate sounds), auditory figure-ground discrimination (distinguishing important sounds from background noise), auditory memory (remembering sounds), and auditory sequencing (understanding the order of sounds)
Balance- and dizziness-related disorders including those caused by inner ear inflammation, ear infections, acoustic neuroma (a noncancerous tumor), Ménière’s disease, vertigo, pregnancy, heart conditions, colds, head injuries, and motion
Hearing loss in infants, children and adults including congenital hearing loss or deafness, and acquired hearing loss from infections, perforated eardrum, tumors, head injuries, exposure to excessive noise, and impacted earwax
Inherited hearing loss disorders including otosclerosis (abnormal bone growth in the inner ear) and auditory neuropathy (nerve damage or dysfunction)
Tinnitus including continuous or fluctuating changes in pitch or ringing, roaring, hissing, buzzing, or clicking sounds that patients hear inside their head but are not present in the outside environment
What does an audiologist test?
An audiologist can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests for hearing or balance problems. These tests include:
Hearing tests for infants and young children including behavioral audiometry (behavior response to sound), play audiometry (play response to sound), visual reinforcement audiometry (visual response to sound), otoacoustic emissions (OAE, measures the ear’s response to sound), and auditory brainstem response (ABR, measures the brain’s response to sound)
Hearing tests for older children and adults including pure-tone testing (faintest tone a person can hear), speech reception threshold, ABR, and OAE
Middle ear tests including tympanometry (eardrum test), acoustic reflex measures (measures reflex contraction of a middle ear muscle), and static acoustic impedance (measures volume of air in the middle ear)
Vestibular or balance tests including postural stability, active and passive rotation, dynamic visual acuity, video-oculography (VOG), electronystagmography (ENG), videonystagmography (VNG), and vestibular evoked myogenic potentials (measures muscular response to sound). VOG, ENG and VNG are methods of recording eye movements that can help diagnose the cause of vestibular or balance disturbances.
What procedures and treatments does an audiologist do?
An audiologist can order or perform various procedures and treatments, including:
Alternative or complementary therapies including biofeedback, hypnosis, relaxation therapy, and counseling
Audiologic rehabilitation including therapies and activities to help people increase their awareness of sound, identify sounds, distinguish individual sounds, and understand the meaning of sounds
Cochlear implants including single vs. multi-channel implants
Communication techniques including lip reading and sign language
Ear hygiene including cerumen (wax) management
Hearing aids including in-the-ear aids, behind-the-ear aids, canal aids, and body aids (wired aids that are worn on a belt)
Hearing assistive technologies (HAT) including FM systems and sound-field systems for classrooms and other gathering places, such as churches and auditoriums
Hearing protection including earplugs, earmuffs, and custom-fitted earmolds
Noise management including tinnitus maskers and sound machines
Vestibular or balance rehabilitation including balance training, gaze stabilization exercises, canalith repositioning (to move tiny particles back into place inside the inner ear), and habituation exercises (to train the brain to compensate)
Audiologist training and certification
Your primary care doctor may be able to refer you to an audiologist in your area. If you don’t have a referral and you are looking on your own, discover nearby hearing specialists today. You can search for an audiologist with the right qualifications and good patient reviews.
All 50 states license and regulate audiologists, but qualifications vary somewhat from state to state. The qualifications of an audiologist typically include:
Graduation with a master’s degree or a doctoral degree from an audiology program accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). Since 2012, the ASHA requires new audiologists to complete a doctoral degree. Most audiologists earn a Doctor of Audiology (AuD) degree.
Completion of graduate-level, supervised professional experience
Passage of a national certification exam
An audiologist may practice in the medical community without becoming certified in the specialty. However, certification is one element in establishing an audiologist’s up-to-date knowledge and skills in audiology. Look for audiologists with the Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology (CCC-A) credential. Continuing education is required to maintain CCC-A certification.