What Is Audiology?
Taken from the Latin word “audīre” which means “to hear” and the Greek word “logia” which means “to study,” audiology is the field that deals with the study of hearing. More comprehensively, this branch of science focuses on the study of hearing and balance disorders and seeks to help individuals suffering from these conditions. Audiologists—the professionals who practice this specialty—assess and diagnose the kind of auditory or balance disorder a patient is suffering from and then make the necessary recommendations on the appropriate course of action to take to treat or manage a particular condition.
Audiology encompasses the study and treatment of full or partial hearing loss, vertigo and tinnitus, among others. Audiologists can work with people from all walks of life—from the newborn to the adolescent to the adult to the elderly. They can also form part of the team that cares for special needs populations.
The field utilizes sophisticated technology and procedures to be able to accurately diagnose diseases. For example, newborns are subjected to a hearing test as part of the newborn screening program. Audiologists who work as newborn screeners use special equipment to be able to determine if a newborn has potential hearing problems. One type of screening for auditory conditions is known as the Automated Otoacoustic Emission test where the equipment used is able to detect if the baby’s cochlea is able to respond to sounds emanating from an earpiece clipped on the infant’s ear.
Audiologists also conduct other procedures and use advanced equipment to be able to determine the cause of a problem. An audiometer, for example, is a machine that will be able to test how sensitive the patient is to hearing at varying frequencies. Another test known as a tympanogram may be used to check the eardrum for perforations as well as other middle ear structures for conditions like glue ear. A tympanogram involves the placing a small probe inside the ear. The acoustic reflex test also involves placing a probe in the ear and then producing a loud tone to determine the contraction of the stapedius muscle. This will help estimate a patient’s hearing threshold if pure tone audiometry cannot be done. If there is any lesion present, this test will even indicate such. Bone conduction tests may also be carried out to evaluate a hearing loss more comprehensively.
Providing treatment options for those with hearing impairments is perhaps one of the most important contributions of audiology to the world. Treating someone with a hearing problem may be as simple as removing impacted earwax from the ear canals or it may involve fitting the ear with a hearing aid. Individuals who are profoundly deaf and are severely hard of hearing are still be able to hear through the aid of cochlear implants. These are very small devices that are surgically implanted under the skin near the ear to stimulate the auditory nerve and enable the person to hear.
Audiologists can also teach clients and their families to communicate with each other even without a hearing aid or cochlear implant. They can recommend that both the clients and their loved ones learn American Sign Language or for the patient to master lip reading.
Audiology is a fast-growing field and demand for audiologists is expected to burgeon in the coming years. The increase of the aging population, early detection of hearing problems of infants through newborn screening and sleeker designs in hearing aids all contribute to the need for more audiologists in the near future.