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 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 are 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.
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.
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.
Individuals considering the purchase of hearing aids should consult with their doctors in order to make the most sensible choice. Hearing aids are often a very worthwhile investment for many individuals, resulting in improved hearing and the ability to communicate and socialize. Our Audiologist is available for you every step of the way. We offer complimentary visits throughout your first year of purchase for any maintenance, questions or concerns. We also carry a wide range of hearing aid accessories and features designed to make life easier.
Types of Hearing Aids
There are three basic styles of hearing aids that vary in size, placement and degree of amplification. Determining which style is best for the individual depends on the severity of the hearing loss.
Behind the Ear (BTE)
These hearing aids are worn behind the ear and connected to a plastic mold that is placed inside the outer ear. They are utilized by individuals with mild to profound hearing loss. New technology has introduced a smaller BTE aid consisting of only a small tube placed into the ear canal. This has the advantages of keeping the canal open and protecting the device from damage due to wax buildup. This smaller BTE also provides a clearer sound.
In the Ear (ITE)
These hearing aids are smaller devices that fit inside the outer ear. They can be used for mild to severe hearing loss but are not typically used for children since they will be quickly outgrown.
Canal aids are the smallest type of aid and fit either in the canal, ITC, or completely in the canal, CIC. Because canal aids are so small, they may be hard to adjust and have very limited space for batteries and other devices. Canal aids, therefore, are most frequently recommended for individuals with mild to moderate hearing loss.
Regardless of style, hearing aids work in two different ways depending on how they are electronically programmed.
Analog Hearing Aids
These aids convert sound waves into electrical signals which are then amplified and transmitted back to the ear. They can be custom-made to fit each patient's hearing needs. They can altered by the patient and customized for different listening environments. Analog aids can be used in any style of hearing aid.
Digital Hearing Aids
Digital hearing aids convert sound waves into numerical codes and then amplify them. Some frequencies can be amplified more than others. Digital aids can also be programmed to focus on sounds coming from a certain direction. These aids tend to be more expensive than the analog variety.