If you’re experiencing hearing loss, your doctor may have referred you to an audiologist. Or maybe you’re reading this guide because you’re considering a medical career and wondering if audiology is a good fit. You probably have a lot of questions, like “What is an audiologist?” and “What does an audiologist do?”
This guide covers all the essential facts about audiologists, including their function, education, training and relationship with other healthcare professionals.
What is an Audiologist?
An audiologist is a hearing healthcare professional who prevents, identifies, diagnoses, and treats hearing loss and balance disorders. They provide services to people of all ages, from newborns to adults.
Where Do Audiologists Work?
Audiologists work in a variety of work settings. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), the most common employment settings for audiologists include:
- Private clinics
- Government agencies
- Military facilities
What Does an Audiologist Do?
The roles and responsibilities of Audiologists are as follows:
Testing and Diagnosis
Audiologists diagnose hearing and balance conditions by administering a complete audiological evaluation consisting of hearing tests and screening questions.
Examples of standard hearing tests audiologists perform include:
|Pure-tone audiometry||Pure-tone audiometry uses a tone generator to play sounds at different volumes and frequencies to determine the softest sound you can hear at each frequency.|
|Bone-conduction testing||Bone-conduction testing uses a tone generator or a tuning fork to send tones via the air or bone. If the patient hears better through the bone, they have conductive hearing loss.|
|Otoacoustic emissions testing||Otoacoustic emissions testing measures sound waves produced by the inner ear. A healthy inner ear will generate these sounds. This is used to diagnose hearing loss in newborns.|
|Acoustic reflex testing||Acoustic reflex testing objectively measures the response of the middle ear to loud sounds. It helps detect middle ear issues.|
|Tympanometry||Tympanometry tests the tympanic membrane for tears and ruptures.|
Once the hearing test is complete, the audiologist will interpret the results to determine the type and severity of hearing loss. If the cause of your hearing loss is medically treatable, the audiologist will refer you to a medical doctor.
Otherwise, the audiologist will treat your hearing and balance problems with hearing aids, balance therapy, aural rehabilitation and other forms of audiologic care.
Management and Treatment
Audiologists provide a wide range of audiology treatment services for hearing loss, tinnitus and balance disorders.
Treatment for hearing conditions includes:
- Referrals to specialists for hearing aids or cochlear implants
- Sound therapy and brain retraining for chronic tinnitus
- Rehabilitation services to help manage hearing loss, such as speech reading, auditory skill development, and language development.
- Counseling patients and families on the psychosocial adjustments of hearing loss
Treatment for balance disorders includes:
- Assessment of semicircular canals and other parts of the balance system
- Non-medical management of balance conditions
- Referral to appropriate professionals if medical management is required
Prevention and Education
Audiologists are a valuable source of information about hearing health. They provide hearing screenings and hearing conservation programs to educate the public about the following:
- Hearing loss prevention
- Early identification and intervention
- Effects of noise exposure on hearing
- Impact of hearing loss on quality of life
- Amplification devices and assistive listening devices
Audiologists Versus Other Hearing Healthcare Professionals
An audiologist works closely with other medical professionals to care for your ears. Let’s look at the difference between these specialists.
Ears are treated by an Otolaryngologist, usually known as an “ENT.” While an audiologist is only qualified to treat hearing and balance issues, an ENT’s specialty covers a broader scope that includes diseases of the ear, nose and throat.
An ENT can prescribe medicine and perform surgery, whereas an audiologist can only refer a patient for hearing aids and other amplification devices or provide nonmedical treatment and rehabilitation.
An audiologist can treat many forms of irreversible mild or moderate hearing loss caused by problems in the inner ear. However, profound hearing loss typically requires the intervention of an ENT who can surgically place a cochlear implant.
Only an ENT can address certain kinds of conductive hearing loss, such as deformities of the outer ear or a middle ear infection, through surgery or other medical treatment.
Hearing Instrument Specialists
Depending on the results of a hearing test, an audiologist may refer a person to a hearing instrument specialist to get hearing aids. Hearing instrument specialists are responsible for dispensing hearing aids and assistive listening devices.
Typically regulated by the state, hearing instrument specialists are generally knowledgeable about hearing aid technology and help people with hearing loss make informed decisions about the right hearing aid to buy. Hearing instrument specialists also help with hearing aid fitting and programming.
Audiologist Education and Training
An audiologist is often thought of as a “hearing doctor,” they are not physicians. Unlike ENTs, becoming an audiologist does not require attending medical school, but the job requires nearly a decade of study and training.
All audiologists hold a bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders or another related field as well as a master’s degree in audiology from an accredited university. Most audiologists have a doctorate in audiology (AuD).
After eight years of university schooling, an audiologist must complete on-the-job training—an externship year— and receive national certification. They are usually also required to gain a state license.
Audiology Salary and Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, audiologists earn $81,030 annually on average, or $38.95 per hour.
This can vary depending on the experience, location, and workplace.
Some states offer higher pay to audiologists than others. North Dakota offers the highest audiologist salary, followed by California and Maryland, according to the BLS.
The BLS also reported that job growth for audiologists is much higher than in other occupations. By 2030, the number of positions in the field is expected to grow by roughly 16 percent.
When to Consult an Audiologist
You should contact an audiologist if you suspect that you have hearing loss.
Here are some of the common signs of hearing loss.
- Trouble hearing sounds
- Problems understanding speech in noisy areas or over the phone
- A ringing, humming, buzzing, clicking or other noise in one or both ears
- Loved ones tell you you’re talking too loud or your TV volume is too high
- Dizziness or other signs of balance system dysfunction
- Ear pain and discharge
- Ear fullness or a feeling of pressure in the ear
Consult a medical doctor immediately if your hearing loss symptoms appear suddenly or are accompanied by other serious symptoms, such as:
- Chest pain
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
Audiology is the medical science of hearing. An audiologist is a highly trained professional who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss and balance.
Audiologists play a critical role in the lives of hearing-impaired individuals. They help patients manage their auditory disorder, communicate better, improve family relationships, social life, and increase their overall well-being.
Though they often work together to treat hearing loss, audiologists should not be confused with ENTs, physicians who medically and surgically treat conditions of the ear. If you have a balance disorder or signs of hearing loss and you’re unsure who to contact, talk to your general practitioner or insurance provider.