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What Is an Audiologist?

Whether powerful music, stirring oratory or the sweet, diverse sounds of nature, much of what inspires us comes through the ears. Hearing is a faculty that equips us for human interaction in a way that the other senses do not. Communication is hindered when hearing is impaired. In fact, we are better attuned to the world around us–e.g. telephones ringing, cars honking, alarms blaring–when we perceive the many sounds that call for a response. Sadly, many lose at least some hearing capacity with age, through injury or from illness. Audiologists are trained to help people manage, or even reverse, these conditions.

What Do Audiologists Do?

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Audiologists help their patients by diagnosing, treating or–better still–helping them to avoid hearing afflictions and disorders. Given the functions of the inner ear, audiologists can also assist patients with issues relating to balance. Among their regular tasks are the screening for and measurement of hearing loss; the selection and customizing of hearing aids and other devices; education of patients on how to prevent any further loss of hearing; counseling patients with tinnitus, i.e. constant ringing in the ears; and evaluating problems relative to balance. Performing these functions calls for a high level of expertise.

How Are Audiologists Educated?

While states might hold to varying educational standards before issuing a license to practice audiology, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) only recognizes those practitioners who possess a doctoral degree. Most institutions that train audiologists award an Au.D,. i.e. a Doctor of Audiology degree, though a Ph.D. program in audiology can offer nearly identical content. Course requirements include diagnostic procedures, laboratory research, clinical practice and technological studies regarding hearing aids. Prior to enrolling in such programs, a bachelor’s degree is assumed. The fourth and final year of an Au.D. program consists of a clinical externship.

Do Audiologists Work in Hospitals?

Audiologists are common among hospital personnel, working closely with neurologists or ear/nose/throat physicians, for example. However, these professionals practice outside hospital walls, as well. For one thing, they may operate private practices of their own, seeing regular and referred patients. Alternatively, they can work out of the offices of physicians with whom they consult. Some can be found conducting research at a college or university while others see patients in nursing facilities or public schools. In short, there are many and varied venues where audiologists attend to people with hearing loss.

How Do Audiologists Correct Poor Balance?

Three places originate the brain signals that regulate balance. The visual system (the eyes), the sensory system (skin, muscles and joints) and the vestibular system (the inner ear). This last origin is why audiologists can help to diagnose the cause of dizziness or troubled balance. In addition, they can initiate vestibular rehabilitation in concert with physical and occupational therapists. This regime involves teaching and instilling compensation practices that reduce dizziness and promote stability. Above all, audiologists provide the testing needed to determine the vestibular role in any pattern of imbalance.