Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent health issues today, affecting people of all ages. As life expectancies rise, age-related hearing loss is becoming more common. At the same time, increased exposure to loud noises has led to rising rates of noise-induced hearing damage in younger generations. Given the widespread impact of hearing impairment, having access to proper hearing healthcare is essential. Audiologists play a central role in providing comprehensive hearing services to help patients of all ages hear their best.
Audiologists are hearing health professionals who are experts in the non-medical management of hearing disorders and auditory dysfunction. They perform a wide range of diagnostic testing, treatment, rehabilitation and preventative services related to hearing ability. Audiologists complete doctoral-level education programs and national exams to obtain proper licensing and credentials. Their advanced training equips them to deliver complete hearing care and improve patients’ quality of life.
One of the core services provided by audiologists is administering hearing tests to assess the degree and type of hearing loss. The battery of exams audiologists perform check hearing sensitivity across different sound frequencies. Testing methods include air conduction studies, bone conduction studies, speech audiometry, tympanometry and more. Hearing evaluations help audiologists determine if any medical conditions may be contributing to the hearing deficit. If medical intervention is needed, audiologists refer patients to ENT physicians. However, audiologists are qualified to diagnose and manage hearing loss that is not medically-based.
Hearing Aid Fittings
Once the extent and nature of hearing loss is determined through testing, audiologists can discuss treatment options. For patients with permanent hearing impairment, audiologists often recommend hearing aids and fit them appropriately. They select hearing aid models and features based on factors like lifestyle, severity of loss, ear size, and aesthetic concerns. Audiologists then digitally program the devices to amplify sounds according to each patient’s unique hearing profile. Multiple adjustment appointments are scheduled to fine-tune the hearing aids for optimal comfort and hearing ability in different environments. Audiologists also counsel patients on proper hearing aid use, care and maintenance.
Simply being fitted with hearing aids does not instantly restore normal hearing function. Patients need guidance and training to relearn how to listen and communicate with amplified input. Audiologists offer aural rehabilitation services to help patients adapt to hearing aids and make the most of their restored hearing capacity. Rehabilitation exercises focus on improving speech understanding and re-stimulating the auditory pathways of the brain. Audiologists may also recommend certain assistive listening devices and accessories to further aid hearing aid users.
Ear and Hearing Health
Beyond managing hearing loss treatment, audiologists also provide clinical ear care. They are trained to perform cerumen (earwax) removal to clear blockages that can inhibit hearing and damage ears. Audiologists examine ears using otoscopes and other tools to check for infection or anatomical abnormalities. For patients with tinnitus (ringing ears), audiologists offer counseling and sound therapy to make symptoms less bothersome. Audiologists also educate all patients on preventative strategies to protect hearing health, such as use of earplugs around hazardous noise.
With their advanced expertise in both the audiological and medical aspects of hearing issues, audiologists provide comprehensive services to evaluate hearing function, fit appropriate hearing aids, rehabilitate auditory pathways, and maintain ear health. They walk with patients through every step of the hearing care process. Audiologists allow patients to understand their hearing status, access treatment options, and learn techniques to communicate effectively and stay engaged with life.
While otolaryngologists and other physicians treat underlying medical conditions, audiologists manage the daily hearing needs of patients living with hearing loss. They are uniquely qualified to improve hearing function and quality of life. As rates of hearing disorders rise, audiologists will continue to serve a vital role in providing holistic hearing healthcare. Their wide-ranging knowledge, diagnostic skills and rehabilitative support help maximize hearing ability at any age. For those concerned about their hearing health, consulting a licensed audiologist is essential for accessing professional care that can make a meaningful difference in hearing ability and communication.
In the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, we stand on the shoulders of giants. The insights shared in this article are built upon the tireless work of countless researchers, clinicians, and innovators in the field of audiology. Here are some of the key sources that have informed our discussion:
- World Health Organization. (2021). Deafness and hearing loss. Link
- American Academy of Audiology. (2020). Guidelines for the Audiologic Management of Adult Hearing Impairment. Link
- Kochkin, S. (2009). MarkeTrak VIII: The impact of the hearing healthcare professional on hearing aid user success. The Hearing Review, 16(4), 12-34.
- Chisolm, T. H., Johnson, C. E., Danhauer, J. L., Portz, L. J., Abrams, H. B., Lesner, S., … & Newman, C. W. (2007). A systematic review of health-related quality of life and hearing aids: final report of the American Academy of Audiology Task Force On the Health-Related Quality of Life Benefits of Amplification in Adults. Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, 18(2), 151-183.