Audiologists are healthcare professionals who specialize in hearing and balance disorders. They work with patients of all ages. They educate their patients on the effects of noise on hearing and fit them with protective hearing devices, hearing aids, and assistive listening devices. They also aid in research related to hearing loss, tinnitus, and balance system dysfunction.
They frequently work in:
- Private practices
- Physicians’ offices
- Colleges and universities
- Rehabilitation centers, long-term and residential healthcare facilities
They provide services that help improve the quality of life of people with hearing and balance conditions.
What Does an Audiologist Do?
Audiologists diagnose, manage, and treat hearing and balance problems in everyone from newborns to older people. They will review a patient’s medical history and evaluate hearing or balance. If they believe a condition might be medically treatable, they will refer you to the appropriate doctor. Otherwise, they will help you to manage the condition through audiologic care and treatment, which may include hearing aids, aural rehabilitation, or balance therapy.
Education and Training
Audiologists are doctoral-level healthcare professionals who are certified and licensed in the practice of audiology. In 2007, the AuD became the entry-level degree for the clinical practice of audiology. The AuD is the designator for the professional doctorate in the discipline of audiology. Completion of the degree typically requires four years of full-time study beyond the bachelor's degree.
Those who graduated with a master’s degree in audiology before 2007 are not required to have a doctorate degree.
Training involves completing:
- An AuD, PhD, or combination AuD/PhD degree.
- Clinical placement of 9-12 months
- State licensing exams
- National exam
- Continuing education requirements in order to renew their licenses
Professional organizations are the American Academy of Audiology, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology, and ASHA. Not all audiologists are members of all three programs. ASHA membership is required at most universities to work as a preceptor but is not required in all state licensing.
Reasons to See an Audiologist
You should see an audiologist if you suspect that you may have a hearing loss. Common early signs of hearing loss include:
- Needing to turn the volume of the TV or radio up higher than other people would like
- Difficulty understanding speech when there is background noise present
- More difficulty hearing women and children than men
- Difficulty hearing in meetings or at public speaking events
- Ringing in one or both ears when no external sound is present
- Difficulty hearing people with “low voice”
- Frequently needing people to repeat themselves
You should also consult an audiologist if you experience occasional or ongoing dizziness or problems with balance.
However, if you are experiencing unexplained issues with balance or dizziness, you should first consult a medical doctor. In addition, you should immediately seek emergency care if you experience any of the following symptoms:
What to Expect at the Audiologist
If you are seeing an audiologist for reasons related to dizziness or balance, they will perform a detailed balance evaluation designed to determine:
- The location and cause of the symptoms
- Any changes in the balance function
- The relationship between functional balance and vision, the inner ear, and other sensory systems.
If you suspect hearing loss, an office visit with an audiologist will begin with the audiologist taking a detailed personal and family history. The audiologist will then examine the outer ear with an otoscope to check for external trauma, ear infection, or earwax buildup. The audiologist will then begin the audiological evaluation. Tests may include (but are not limited to):
- Tympanometry, the measurement of eardrum movement and pressure variation
- Pure-tone testing to determine whether the patient’s hearing falls within normal limits
- Speech recognition
- Other tests of auditory function
After performing these tests, the audiologist will make recommendations for treatment and/or management.