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What conditions do audiologists treat?
Audiologists can diagnose and treat a number of conditions related to hearing disorders, balance problems, and the impairment of certain neural systems. Some examples of services audiologists provide include:
Hearing tests: Audiologists can perform hearing tests using listening devices and scoping tools to help determine the cause of hearing loss, the degree of hearing impairment, and develop a treatment plan that works for you.
Hearing impairment and loss: Audiologists are trained to diagnose and treat hearing disorders such as hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and hearing impairment due to damage to the inner ear. Depending on the level of hearing loss they find, audiologists may recommend treatment plans such as hearing aids, devices that help patients recover hearing ability.
Hearing assistance devices: If your audiologist uncovers signs of hearing impairment, they may recommend hearing assistance devices such as hearing aids, cochlear implants, and audiologic therapy to help repair or lessen hearing loss.
Balance disorders and dizziness treatment: Audiologists don't just treat hearing loss -- they are also experts in balance disorders, which are often caused by conditions in the ear. Some examples of these conditions include inner ear damage, neurological disorders, and head injuries. Audiologists will perform tests to determine the cause of the balance disorder and work with you to create a treatment plan that can help improve balance. Audiologists are also trained to perform vestibular rehabilitation, a series of exercises that can help reposition the head and body.
What is hearing loss?
Put simply, hearing loss the gradual loss of your ability to hear. The term describes hearing impairment due to a variety of factors. According to the American-Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), there are three types of hearing loss. These are:
Conductive Hearing Loss: Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound cannot get through the outer or middle ear. This makes it difficult to hear soft sounds, and makes loud sounds muffled. Conductive hearing loss can be due to fluid buildup in the inner ear, infections, or deformity, among other factors.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss: Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the inner ear is damaged, possibly by injury, aging, or illness. Sensorineural hearing loss results in soft sounds becoming hard to hear, and loud sounds becoming muffled or unclear.
Mixed: Mixed hearing loss occurs when there is a problem with both the inner and outer ear. Mixed hearing loss may be caused by damage to the nerves connecting the ear to the brain.
How do audiologists generally treat hearing loss?
After assessing the severity and cause of your hearing loss or other hearing-related disorders, audiologists may create treatment plans that include medication, assistance devices, therapy, and more. To diagnose hearing loss, an audiologist will use a series of tests including a physical examination and a hearing evaluation that uses audiometers (an instrument that plays tones through headphones). Once the hearing loss has been evaluated, the audiologist will recommend a treatment plan, which may include:
Removal of blockage or fluid: Earwax blockage or fluid buildup due to illness can cause hearing loss. An audiologist may choose to remove this blockage using suction, clearing out the ear canal in the process. If hearing loss is persistent, an audiologist may refer the patient to an otolaryngologist (better known as an ENT) for surgery. The ENT will drain the ear of fluid with several small incisions or correct physical abnormalities in the ear.
Hearing aid fitting: If hearing loss is due to damage to the inner ear, an audiologist may recommend a hearing aid in one or both ears. An audiologist can help the patient fit a hearing aid and determine which type of hearing aid is best. Audiologists can also help the patient care for their hearing aid, giving advice about maintenance.
Cochlear implants: Cochlear implants require a surgical procedure to place the implant in the inner ear. An audiologist may recommend that a patient gets this surgery through an otolaryngologist (ENT) to help recover lost hearing. A cochlear implant consists of a microphone that is worn on the outside of the head to pick up sounds. These are then sent to a transmitter implanted in the head, which sends signals directly to the auditory nerve. Cochlear implants do not restore “normal” hearing, and an audiologist will work with an ENT to determine whether this procedure is right for the patient.
Audiologic Rehabilitation: Audiologists can help patients learn to adjust to life with hearing loss or hearing assistance devices. They teach patients proper rehabilitation exercises and strategies to properly use hearing aids and improve listening skills. Rehabilitation can also help patients learn visual cues and negotiate noise in public. Additionally, audiologists may recommend work with speech-language pathologists to help build or regain language skills that may have been lost due to hearing impairment.
How do audiologists treat balance disorders?
Audiologists receive special training to help assess and diagnose balance problems caused by conditions in the ear. Common symptoms of balance disorders include:
Weakness in arms or legs
Balance problems can result from a number of underlying conditions - including hearing disorders. An audiologist will first test your hearing and examine your ears to determine if they are the cause of the problem.
If your audiologist finds that an ear disorder is causing your balance problems, they may recommend vestibular rehabilitation, a program of exercises that helps patients improve balance and reduce dizziness. Some common types of vestibular rehabilitation exercises are:
Neck mobility and stretching
Vision stability training
Depending on your condition, vestibular rehabilitation can usually take somewhere between 6-8 weeks, with sessions taking place once or twice a week. Vestibular rehabilitation has been shown to be very effective in reducing dizziness and correcting balance problems.
How do audiologists test hearing?
Hearing tests are quick, painless, outpatient procedures usually offered at audiology clinics or other clinical practices. Whether you're having trouble hearing or just want to get checked out, audiologists can help check for hearing loss with just a few easy tests. Common hearing evaluations performed at a hearing clinic include:
Ear exam: This is usually the first evaluation an audiologist will perform. Sometimes called otoscopy, these exams involve checking the inside of the ears with a small light and scope (known as an otoscope). By visually assessing the ear, your audiologist can screen for earwax blockage or abnormal physical issues. Earwax blockage occurs when excess wax is pushed back into the ear canal (usually with a q-tip) and hardens. This can cause hearing loss, ear infections, and other complications.
Audiometry: This is the hearing test that most people think of when they think of hearing evaluations. You will be seated in a sound-proof room and given headphones. Your audiologist will then play different sounds at a variety of frequencies to check for hearing loss and tinnitus. Audiometry tests are painless and only take a few minutes to complete.
Speech Testing: Like an audiometry test, you will be played a number of different words through headphones and be asked to repeat the words you hear. Speech testing helps audiologists determine your ability to recognize words.
Tympanometry: This test helps assess how well your eardrum moves and can help determine whether you a condition of the eardrum, an ear infection, or an earwax blockage.
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