Audiology: The Basics - Hearing and Speech Agency

Audiology: The Basics

What is an audiologist? I’m sure it’s a question that has crossed your mind at one point. It’s a career that’s still not entirely understood by the public, often confusing this profession with an otolaryngologist. An otolaryngologist (ENT) differs from an audiologist because they focus on multiple parts of the body; such as ear, nose, and throat. On the other hand, an audiologist is often described as a “hearing doctor," concentrating on the treatment and diagnosis of balance disorders and hearing loss. Hearing related disorders are assessed using a wide variety of diagnostic tests, which can determine the area of pathology and possibly the underlying cause.

Most commonly, we imagine audiologists performing hearing tests and screenings. Hearing loss can be confirmed using pure tone audiometry, which is when the audiologist presents tones at different frequencies. The patient will raise their hand or respond “yes” when they hear the beeps, the goal is to see what the lowest level of sound the patient is able to hear (otherwise known as their hearing threshold). The degree of hearing loss can be determined by plotting the results of this test on a graph, known as an audiogram. Perfect hearing is 0dB, but as we age we can to lose up to 25dB and still be within the normal range. If the points on the audiogram exceed this number, the patient is classified with hearing loss. Just as we are all unique in other ways, hearing loss varies between individuals.  A person with low frequency hearing loss will miss men’s voices, basey tones, and vowels. Rather, someone with high frequency hearing loss will struggle with treble, high pitched women’s voices, and most consonants. It is important for an audiologist to determine the degree of hearing loss and understand any associated symptoms. 

One of the most common ways an audiologist can improve a person’s quality of life is by supplying hearing aid devices to those who have lost their hearing. When a person receives hearings aids for the first time, they can feel overwhelmed with the basic sounds many of us don’t notice. For example, some people adjusting to their hearing aids will complain their voice sounds like an echo or eating food sounds like their teeth are breaking. The reason for this is because the brain has forgotten what these things actually sound like, so patients now have to get used to all these sounds they haven't heard in years (or ever). It’s true when people say “if you don’t use it, you lose it”, this very much applies to hearing and stimulating our brain. The brain is like a muscle that needs exercise, and without exercise this muscle can atrophy. With hearing aids, the patient has to retrain their brain to make sure that signals are processed and converted to the speech sounds we hear. Over time, the patient will get used to the sharpness of the smallest of sounds and their brain will readjust.

Audiologists use their years of education, training, and experience to help their patients connect to the world around them. Whether communication comes easily to you or your journey has been more challenging, interpersonal connection is a huge part of the human experience. This is the main reason why I have chosen to pursue a career as an audiologist, and I look forward to contributing to my future patients' happiness with quality hearing health care. 


Sara Wolfson is a HASA Digital Ambassador. She plans to pursue a career in audiology. 

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