What Is Audiology?
Audiology is a medical specialty focused on hearing and related disorders. An audiologist performs various tests that measure a person’s range of hearing. Screenings such as hearing tests, auditory brainstem response, and otoacoustic emission measurements provide valuable information to audiologists, ear, nose, and throat doctors, and their patients to help understand the degree and type of hearing loss a person may have. The data obtained via appropriate testing allows the medical team to determine if a hearing device can be used and, if so, what type.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
Several independent factors may contribute to hearing loss, including:
- Noise exposure
- Genetic predisposition
- Fluid accumulation in the middle ear
- Damage to the small bones in the ear
- Perforation of the eardrum
- Inner ear condition such as Meniere’s disease
- Certain medications are considered toxic to the ear (ototoxic) and may cause hearing loss
Hearing loss is a relatively complex condition that is categorized as one of three basic types. Hearing loss may be:
- Conductive, resulting from a structural blockage in the middle or outer ear. This blockage diminishes the clarity and volume of sounds. The treatment for conductive hearing loss may include a hearing device, surgery, or bone conduction hearing technology.
- Sensorineural, resulting from damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve. This damage is localized in nerve endings that are not functioning as they should. Treatment for sensorineural hearing loss may include a hearing device or, in severe cases, a cochlear implant.
- Mixed hearing loss involves both structural (conductive) blockage and neural malfunction, affecting the inner ear and the middle or outer ear. Treatment for this type of hearing loss may include a traditional or bone-anchored hearing device.
What Are the Hearing Loss Treatments?
Hearing loss can have a significant impact on a person’s professional and social relationships. Appropriate treatment is crucial for maintaining an optimal quality of life and to prevent feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression.
Ear, Nose, and Throat of New Jersey specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss and related disorders. The crucial consultation and hearing test that is conducted in our office obtains the information needed to determine if the etiology of hearing loss is temporary or permanent. Based on this information, a treatment plan can be tailored to each patient’s needs.
How Do Hearing Devices Work?
Four basic styles of hearing devices are available today. These vary by size, placement, and degree of amplification.
- Behind the Ear (BTE) hearing devices come in various sizes. This type of device sits behind the ear and has a small, custom mold that sits in the ear canal. Available in a range of colors, this device is very discreet. It is a common solution for mild to severe hearing loss.
- Receiver-in-Canal (RIC) hearing devices are a popular solution due to their cosmetic appeal. The RIC device is discreet, consisting of a small device behind the ear, a thin receiver wire, and a small dome that sits in the ear canal. Some RIC devices are Bluetooth compatible. This type of hearing device can address mild to severe hearing loss.
- In-the-Canal (ITC) hearing devices sit entirely in the ear canal. This device is appropriate for mild to moderate hearing loss.
- Invisible-in-the-Canal or Completely-in-the-Canal hearing devices are the smallest and most cosmetically appealing. They are so small that they are not noticed and they are powerful enough to be used for mild to moderately-severe hearing loss.
What Are Hearing Tests?
A hearing test is a screening that measures the sensitivity of hearing across the full range of tones and volumes used in speech. Referred to as an audiogram, this hearing test notes the quietest sound that a person can hear s well as several points across the range.
What Is the Hearing Test Options?
Five different hearing tests may be performed by an audiologist. These include:
This test measures pitches heard by the patient. The test is conducted using headphones. Sounds are delivered through the headphones. When the patient hears a sound, they raise a hand or press a button. Pure-tone tests are conducted on one ear at a time.
A speech test involves the patient listening to a conversation in both noisy and quiet environments. The audiologist records word recognition to determine the degree of speech reception the patient has; essentially how much of normal conversation the patient can hear and respond to.
Middle Ear Test
Measurements including tympanometry, static acoustic measures, and acoustic reflex measures may be obtained to evaluate the function of the middle ear. This test includes the use of air pressure delivered into the ear canal to cause vibrations on the eardrum. Acoustic reflex indicates the amount of contraction in the middle ear in response to a loud sound. Measuring this reflex helps determine if hearing loss may be related to a perforated eardrum.
Auditory Brainstem Response
This test involves the placement of electrodes on the head to measure brain wave activity in response to sounds that are heard through headphones. The patient sits or lies down comfortably during the painless test and does not need to respond to sounds. The technician performing the test observes brain activity on a computer screen. This test evaluates how the inner ear and the brain pathways are working together to form hearing.
Otoacoustic emissions are generated in the inner ear itself when the cochlea is stimulated by sound. Studies suggest that damage to the inner ear diminishes or stops these sounds given off by the outer hair cells in the inner ear.
How Can Hearing Loss Be Prevented?
Hearing loss cannot always be prevented. However, there are ways to protect the ears from unnecessary and excessive stimulation. Experts suggest:
- Wear hearing protection such as earplugs or earmuffs
- Removing earwax carefully using an appropriate irrigation device to soften the wax and wash it away. Using a Q-tip can push wax deeper into the ear canal and should not be done.
- Talk to your doctor about prescribed medications. Approximately 200 drugs, including some antibiotics, can damage hearing.
We are proud to provide a wide range of services to patients in Ocean and Monmouth counties. To schedule a consultation and hearing test with us, call 732-914-2233.