By Dr. Cindy Leeb
People often think of their audiologist as someone who does hearing tests and treats hearing loss. Typically, a huge part of our daily schedule is dedicated to diagnosing hearing loss and treating hearing loss with appropriately fit amplification. In addition, we also spend a good portion of our day following up with patients to see how they are doing with their hearing aids, completing regular maintenance and cleaning on devices, and repairing hearing aids in-house that are not working properly. But did you know there is more to audiology then just hearing tests and hearing aids?
Another common service provided in audiology practices is vestibular testing. If a person is experiencing regular vertigo or dizziness, they will often be referred to the audiologist for a diagnostic vestibular test. These tests can include being observed while following objects with your eyes as well as being moved into different positions to evaluate for dizziness. These tests can also include having warm/cold air or water put in your ear to assess eye movement that is indicative of a vestibular problem. Together, this battery of tests helps an audiologist assess the vestibular system to determine if there is a vestibular weakness or disorder present.
In addition to assessment and treatment, audiologists also provide services to help try to prevent hearing loss in the first place. For example, people often see an audiologist to have custom hearing protection made to protect their hearing in noisy environments. Hunters, musicians, construction workers, and other individuals who have loud hobbies or work in loud environments can develop hearing loss from the noise they are exposed to on a regular basis, and it is important to use hearing protection when in dangerously loud environments.
An audiologist can make molds of an individual’s ears and order custom-fitted hearing protection to fit an individual’s ear and unique noise exposure needs. For example, a musician may order hearing protection that has special filters to allow some of the sound in but at a level that is not dangerous for their hearing. Alternatively, someone who mows the lawn or practices wood or metal crafts may get solid plugs for maximum sound reduction.
Custom-fitted products like those mentioned above can be great for hearing protection, but they also have other uses. I have made custom plugs for patients who can’t sleep because the sound of their partner snoring is keeping them awake. I have also created custom plugs for college students who feel that the noise in their dorms is distracting when trying to study. Also, some adults and children who may have Pressure Equalization Tubes in their ears for medical reasons get what we call swim plugs – specially fitted molds to help keep water out of the ears when swimming, showering, or participating in any type of water activity.
The most well-known part of an audiologist’s job may be to diagnose and treat hearing loss, but we provide other services as well in an effort to help improve our patient’s lives. If you are experiencing regular episodes of vertigo, please talk to your doctor and ask if vestibular testing is recommended. If you are concerned about noise exposure for you or your loved ones, ask about custom hearing protection. Next time you are at the audiologist don’t be afraid to ask what other services the office/practice provides so you can be familiar with all the ways your audiologist can serve you.