What Is An Audiologist
Audiologists are the primary health-care professionals who evaluate, diagnose, treat, and manage hearing loss and balance disorders in adults and children. Most audiologist earn a doctor of audiology (AuD) which requires 4 years of college and 2 additional years of post-graduate training and education. They must pass a national exam certifying their competence, audiologists must be licensed in the state where they practice, and are regulated by the Division of Consumer Affairs. The American Academy of Audiology (AAA) and The American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA) are the primary national governing bodies for Audiology.
With additional training and expertise, the audiologist may receive the honor of Fellow, which is bestowed by the American Academy of Audiology (AAA).
What Types of Tests And Treatments Do Audiologists Perform?
- Evaluate and diagnose hearing loss and vestibular (balance) disorders
- Prescribe, fit, and dispense hearing aids and other amplification and hearing assistance technologies
- Are members of cochlear implant teams
- Are engaged in research and development with hearing aid manufacturers
- Teach as faculty members at colleges, universities and teaching hospitals
- Perform ear- or hearing-related surgical monitoring
- design and implement hearing conservation programs
- design and implement newborn hearing screening programs
- provide hearing rehabilitation training such as auditory training and listening skills improvement
- assess and treat individuals, especially children, with central auditory processing disorders
- assess and treat individuals with tinnitus (noise in the ear, such as ringing).
- Almost all types of hearing loss are treatable by an audiologist.
- Most hearing loss that is caused by nerve damage can be treated by an audiologist with hearing aids, assistive listening devices, and hearing rehabilitation.
What Are the Signs Of A Hearing Loss?
If you think you or a loved one may have hearing loss, you are not alone. Oftentimes people notice signs of hearing loss but do not take the steps to get it treated right away. Typically, it takes people an average of seven years to seek treatment. You may have hearing loss if:
- You hear people speaking but you have to strain to understand their words.
- You frequently ask people to repeat what they said.
- You don’t laugh at jokes because you miss too much of the story or the punch line.
- You frequently complain that people mumble.
- You need to ask others about the details of a meeting you just attended.
- Others tell you that your TV or radio settings are louder than your friends, spouse and relatives.
- You cannot hear the doorbell or the telephone.
- You find that looking at people when they speak to you makes it easier to understand.
- You miss environmental sounds such as birds or leaves blowing.
- You find yourself avoiding certain restaurants because they are too noisy or certain people, because you cannot understand them.
- You hear a ringing sound in your ears, especially when it is quiet.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
Approximately 85% of hearing is nerve-related and is commonly attributed to excessive noise exposure, aging and unlucky genetics. The other 15% of hearing loss is medically related (eg. ear infection, broken ear drum, head or ear trauma) and can be treated by a physician. Recent data shows that about 20 percent of adults in the United States (48 million) report some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss often occurs gradually throughout a lifetime.
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a common disorder affecting over 50 million people in the United States. It is often referred to as “ringing in the ears,” although some people hear hissing, roaring, whistling, chirping, or clicking or other sound. Tinnitus can be intermittent or constant, with single or multiple tones. Its perceived volume can range from very soft to extremely loud. Tinnitus is not well understood but is reported in 85% of those with hearing loss and in as many as 60% of those exposed to excessive noise. Tinnitus generally does not get worse once it surfaces. Occasionally tinnitus can be a symptom for a medical condition so it is a good idea to seek a hearing healthcare provider for a comprehensive hearing evaluation once it is noticed.
How Is Tinnitus Treated?
Generally, most patients will not need any medical treatment for tinnitus. The most effective treatments to help with the management of tinnitus studied by well-known researchers Sergei Kochkin, PhD and Richard Tyler, PhD were as follows:
- Hearing Aids
- Relaxation Techniques
- Medication from a Physician
- External noise (fan or tv or other noise generating device)
There are dietary supplements, herbs and other over-the-counter products marketed to alleviate tinnitus but there is little to no data to support those claims. Speak with a physician first before considering use of such products.
Audiologist or Hearing Aid Dispenser? What Is The Difference?
There are vast differences in the professional roles in diagnosing and treatment of hearing loss. An important distinction to understand when treating your hearing loss is the difference between an Audiologist and a hearing aid dispenser.
Audiologist: An Audiologist must complete 4 years of college and earn a Doctorate in Audiology which requires 4 years of post-college education. They are trained in anatomy and physiology, amplification devices, cochlear implants, electrophysiology, acoustics, psychophysics and auditory rehabilitation. The graduate school years focus on the medical, diagnostic and rehabilitative aspects of hearing loss, hearing aids and the vestibular system. Upon completion of training, Audiologists must also pass a national standardized examination in order to be eligible for state licensure. Continuing education requirements must be met every calendar year in order for an Audiologist to maintain state licensure.
Hearing Aid Dispenser: In many states, hearing aid dispensers are only required to have a high school diploma. In other states, hearing aid dispensers must complete two years of college or post-secondary education in any field prior to applying for licensure. Some states require completion of distance learning coursework prior to taking the exam. A hearing aid dispenser is licensed to perform audiometric testing for the sole purpose of selling and fitting hearing aids. They are not licensed to test hearing for medical diagnostic purposes and there are limitations to their scope of practice testing and fitting hearing aids on children.
Audiologists are highly trained degree professionals. Audiologists receive extensive training in assessment of hearing, diagnosis, fitting and adjustment of hearing aids that helps to ensure:
- An accurate diagnosis;
- An appropriate treatment plan of intervention;
- A positive outcome from the hearing aid.
Does Medicare Pay For Hearing Devices?
No. A 2016 article “Why does Medicare cover cochlear implants but not hearing aids?” by industry insider Dr. Fan-Gan Zeng suggests that published evidence on the health benefits of hearing aids is inadequatate, and that, accordingly, hearing aids do not merit coverage. Hearing aids are regulated as low-risk devices and are generally exempt from FDA review and clearance before marketing. This lack of regulation has resulted in a lack of controlled, clinical trials to demonstrate hearing aid health benefits. H writes that ultimately, achieving Medicare coverage of hearing aids will depend on the willingness and ability of hearing aid manufacturers to quantify the health benefits of hearing aids, which would be compared to other Medicare and insurance covered medical devices. You, the consumer can be an advocate for yourself to see coverage for hearing devices by contacting your insurance plan or employer and ask them for coverage for hearing healthcare services. Regarding Medicare, request your local U.S. Congress person at, and U.S Senator to advocate for greater hearing healthcare coverage through various Federal programs like Medicare and for deeper income tax credits for purchases of hearing devices. Finally, request the Department of Health and Human Services who manage Medicare to provide coverage for hearing healthcare devices and services.
Can Hearing Aids Be Used As A Tax Deduction?
Yes. A bill was introduced in 2013 to Congress named H.R.1317 — Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit Act 2013. Visit the Better Hearing Institute to learn about this legislation and contact your tax preparer about how to apply this benefit towards your income taxes.