What is an Audiologist?
An audiologist is a healthcare professional tasked with diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions associated with hearing loss. These medical professionals must have their Master’s degree in audiology, and are now required to be in pursuit of their Doctoral degree. Your local audiologist should be licensed in their state and may be awarded with a Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). You can think of this medical professional as a hearing doctor.
Here at Alpine ENT, our audiologists rely on dynamic evaluation and treatment protocols to provide support for patients dealing with tinnitus, hearing problems, balance issues, and more.
What Types of Services do Audiologists Provide?
Your audiology professional will be able to address a wide range of conditions and concerns to ensure that you are able to enjoy life comfortably and to the fullest. A few audiology services include:
- Hearing tests and patient diagnostics
- Pediatric hearing loss evaluation and treatment
- Testing of balance and dizziness for treatment
- Surgical monitoring of the ear in hospital settings
- Amplification with a hearing device
- Diagnosis and treatment of tinnitus
- Treatment of balance disorders such as vertigo
How Common is Hearing Loss?
Age also plays a large role in this condition, as one-third of Americans over the age of 65 are dealing with hearing loss. Hearing loss has been reported in nearly 20% percent of American adults, making it important for individuals of all ages to practice proper hearing protection when needed.
Hearing loss can be hereditary, impacting an individual at birth, or in some cases it can manifest later in life. If you have a family history of hearing loss, let your audiologist know so they can better manage your health.
What are the Signs of Hearing Loss?
If you notice any of these symptoms within yourself or a loved one, it is important to discuss scheduling a visit with an audiologist for a hearing test:
- Muffled sounds and speech
- Inability to understand speech, especially in loud environments
- Need to increase the volume for television, music, and phone calls
- Frequently stopping conversation to ask for clarity
- Withdrawal from social settings and larger gatherings
What are the Causes of Hearing Loss?
From long exposure to loud noises to obstructions, health issues, and more, patients may suffer from hearing loss for a number of reasons.
- Inner ear damage — Exposure to loud noises and advanced age are amongst the top causes for hearing loss. Ongoing wear and tear on the sensitive hairs in the cochlea can cause a breakdown, leading to less efficient transmission of electrical signals.
- Earwax blockages — A buildup of wax can block your ear canal, disrupting your ability to hear. Removal of the wax may restore hearing capabilities.
- Obstructions — Bone growth or tumors around the outer and middle ear can impact the ear canal.
- Ear infections — The fluid and pressure from an ear infection may cause temporary hearing loss.
Are There Different Types of Hearing Loss?
Yes. Not all hearing loss is the same, which is why patients will undergo a hearing evaluation to help their audiologist determine the type of hearing loss sustained in order to create a beneficial treatment plan.
Your audiologist will identify your hearing loss by one of three types:
- Sensorineural (the inner ear, also called nerve deafness)
- Conductive (the outer or middle ear)
- Mixed (Some combination of the two)
How Do You Diagnose Hearing Loss in Children?
After passing their initial hearing screening shortly after birth, children will undergo regular testing to ensure that they are hearing properly. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends checking your child’s hearing yearly from four to six years of age, then bi-yearly until age 10.
The Audiologists at Alpine ENT rely on modern equipment to help assess the hearing capabilities of your child. The type of test used will depend on the patient’s age and symptoms. A couple of the most common hearing tests include:
- Auditory brainstorm test (ABR) — Used to check sensorineural hearing loss, the ABR sends out sound waves and measures how the brain responds with electrode caps attached to each ear. A computer will measure the brain’s response, requiring no cooperation from the patient.
- Otoacoustic emissions test (OAE) — An OAE is designed to measure the otoacoustic emissions within the ear, which are sounds given off by the inner ear when it is responding to incoming sounds. The measurement of this vibration is used in determining hearing loss.
What is Tinnitus?
This common hearing disorder affects more than 50 million people across the United States, and is often categorized as the “ringing problem.” That buzzing or ringing sound that won’t go away can be due to a number of factors, including hearing loss from damage or age, trauma to the neck or head, sinus infections, side effects of medications, excess ear wax in the canal, and more.
Can the Sounds I Hear Indicate the Cause?
In many cases, your audiologist will be able to narrow down or even identify the cause of your tinnitus based on the sound. A few of the most common sounds reported include:
- Low-pitched ringing — While rare, this form of tinnitus may be more intense before an episode of vertigo. Meniere’s disease is known to affect the inner ear (and only one ear), impacting balance and producing a low ring in addition to being the cause for vertigo.
- High-pitched ringing — Many people experience tinnitus resulting from loud noises or impacts to the ear. The damage is due to excessively loud noise, when you go to a concert or spend a lot of time near machinery. This high-pitched ringing should subside in a few hours, but if the event was enough to cause hearing loss, then the tinnitus may be permanent.
- Loud heartbeat — The constant sound of your heartbeat may be due to high blood pressure. Any blockage of the ear canal or eustachian tube can amplify the sound of your heart, referred to as pulsatile tinnitus. In some cases, this can also be caused by a tumor or an aneurysm.
- Clicking — Muscular tinnitus can be to blame for sharp clicking sounds you may hear in bursts. Episodes may last a few seconds or several minutes. If the palate of the mouth were to spasm (Palatal myoclonus), the reaction could cause the Eustachian tube to open and close repeatedly, impacting the pressure in both ears and producing clicking sounds.
- Miscellaneous sounds — Conditions such as otosclerosis (stiff inner ear bones) can cause tinnitus in random bouts. The ear canal can also be impacted by foreign objects such as loose hairs, rubbing the eardrum and creating a range of sounds.
Can Medications Cause Hearing Loss?
There are numerous ototoxic (toxic to the ear) medications commonly available which are known to cause hearing loss, tinnitus, hyperacusis, and more. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen are among this list, as well as certain anticonvulsants, blood pressure medication, allergy medications, chemotherapy drugs, anti-anxiety medication, and more.
If you suspect that your hearing loss is due to a new medication, it is vital to seek medical help immediately. Allowing these drugs to build up in your system can increase the ototoxicity, leading to permanent hearing loss. Schedule an appointment with your doctor, as stopping medication can prove to be risky.
When Should I See a Doctor About Hearing Loss?
If you experience a sudden loss in hearing, particularly in one ear, it is essential to seek medical attention for your safety and the long-term health of your hearing. Beyond this, it is recommended to speak with an audiologist if your problems with hearing have begun to impact your daily life. While a hearing doctor often cannot repair hearing damage, they can work with a team of professionals to ensure that you make the most out of your current abilities.
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