A helping hand for your hearing

“Can you hear me now? Good!”

No, this isn’t an ad for a cell phone company.  It’s a glimpse into the life of an audiologist. October is Audiology Awareness Month, and lots of people don’t know all the ways we can help. As an introduction, audiologists are medical professionals who specialize in evaluating people with hearing loss, as well as various vestibular — or balance — disorders.

Audiologists also provide non-medical treatment options through hearing aids, cochlear implants, bone-anchored-hearing-aids and other assistive devices.  Audiologists help promote hearing conservation, and can make custom hearing protection and other recreational devices.

Audiologists hold a masters or doctorate-level degree. You’ll find them in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, universities, ENT clinics, private practice offices, schools and research facilities. Audiologists also have the opportunity to serve in various branches of the military.

A range of services are provided by audiologists, including:

  • Diagnostic hearing evaluations (pediatric and adult)
  • Diagnostic vestibular evaluations (pediatric and adult)
  • Amplification (hearing aids, cochlear implants, bone-anchored-hearing-aids)
  • Evaluation of Central Auditory Processing Disorder
  • Hearing conservation
  • Custom recreational devices (ear buds and swimmers ear plugs)
  • Assistive communication devices (FM systems, amplified telephones, and other devices)

People of all ages can have their hearing tested. Although a 7-day-old baby may not be able to press the button when they hear the beep, they can definitely lie still long enough for certain tests such as Otoacoustic Acoustic Emission and Auditory Brainstem Response tests. These tests measure the function of the cochlea or auditory pathway to the brainstem, with no patient response needed. There are also various methods in the form of games used to test toddlers, children and special populations. Audiologists have a test for everyone from newborns to grandma and grandpa!

The cost of hearing aids can be a burden and a deterrent for many people with hearing loss.  However, there are various levels of hearing aid technology that may fit your needs as well as your budget. There are also multiple income and need-based programs available that can help. The University Health System Hearing and Balance Center works with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, as well as non-profit organizations like the Starkey Hear Now program and the Lions Club to help patients find affordable amplification options.

Audiologists not only diagnose and treat hearing loss, they also work hard to promote hearing conservation. The right hearing protection according to the recommended Noise Reduction Rating value can help prevent noise-induced hearing loss.  Custom hearing protection is available in various forms of technology, and can be customized for specific uses. If used appropriately, earplugs made from molds of the patient’s ear can be more effective than generic earplugs at mitigating the damage caused by loud noises.

Custom ear buds for listening to music improve comfort and create a close fit that facilitates listening to music at softer volumes. Preventative measures early on can reduce the severity and cost of hearing loss later. Custom water-safe earplugs are also available and beneficial to swimmers’ ear health.

You may need an audiologist if:

  • You feel as if everyone around you is mumbling
  • Your family complains about the television being too loud
  • You experience episodes of feeling that you or the room are spinning in circles
  • You have a family history of hearing loss
  • Your hobbies include exposure to loud sounds (e.g., firearms, engines, loud music)
  • Your line of work exposes you to loud sounds (e.g., truck driver, musician, military, construction work, airports)
  • You hear constant or intermittent sounds in one or both of your ears (e.g., ringing, buzzing, or pulsing)
  • You enjoy swimming but don’t enjoy water in your ears
  • You wish to find means of preventing noise induced hearing loss
  • You enjoy listening with ear buds but are tired of your ear buds popping out!

Consider consulting an audiologist if any of the above scenarios apply to you.   As technology has evolved over the years so have advancements in hearing health care. Audiologists are equipped to work with all ages and can provide both diagnostic and rehabilitative services.

Allyson M. Womack is an audiologist at University Health System

Photo courtesy Pixabay