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How an audiologist can lend an ear to help hearing loss

Lisa Davidson, Reed Norwood
Wednesday, Nov 6, 2013

In today’s world of health care, most of the body’s organs or systems have specialists, both medically and non-medically trained, who evaluate and treat or manage disorders of those organs or systems. For example, vision problems are evaluated and treated by optometrists, who are non-medical degreed specialists, while medical and/or surgical treatment of the eye is performed by ophthalmologists, who are M.D.’s and surgeons. Likewise, hearing and balance problems are evaluated and treated by audiologists who are non-medical degreed specialists, while otolaryngologists (ENT’s) are trained in the medical and surgical treatment of the ear.

Audiology is a relatively new profession and is often unfamiliar to many laypersons, but is the only profession whose sole purpose is the evaluation and management of hearing and balance disorders. The practice of audiology requires licensure by the state of Tennessee, just as the practice of medicine, dentistry or optometry does. The minimum requirements to practice audiology require a master’s degree in audiology from an accredited university.

Now all audiologists trained have either an AuD (doctor of audiology), which is the clinical training degree, or a Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy in hearing science), which is the education and research degree. Most audiology training programs are comprised of four additional years of education and training beyond the standard four-year undergraduate college degree. Audiology training includes classes in anatomy and physiology of the ear, hearing and balance mechanisms, acoustics, speech science, evaluation of hearing, evaluation of balance, psychological aspects of hearing loss, and hearing aid technology. During their period of study, audiology students also observe and then participate in the evaluation and management of patients with hearing and balance disorders. Generally, the fourth year of training is an externship in which the student works in an audiology practice under the supervision of a licensed audiologist. After meeting these requirements, an audiologist may apply for and be licensed by the state to practice and then be credentialed as a provider of services for Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance companies.

Not everyone who evaluates hearing loss patients is an audiologist. Most states allow licensed hearing aid salespersons to evaluate hearing for the purpose of fitting and selling a hearing aid. In Tennessee, there are no requirements that these licensed salespersons have any formal college level training in the aspects of hearing loss. Hearing aid salespersons are not licensed

to perform diagnostic evaluations nor are they recognized by Medicare to be able to provide services. Some offices use “audio techs” for hearing testing, however, the state of Tennessee currently does not license “audio techs” and the few training programs for them recommend that they perform only very limited portions of a complete hearing evaluation under the supervision of a licensed audiologist.

Audiologists are trained and licensed to evaluate all types of hearing loss and then to refer to a physician if the hearing loss requires medical or surgical intervention. Studies have shown that medical treatment is indicated in only about 20 percent of adult hearing loss cases. Doctors of audiology have in depth, post graduate training in hearing aids and in Tennessee are licensed to dispense hearing aids as well as perform comprehensive assessment of hearing loss.

Our ability to hear requires a wondrous and complicated auditory system involving many different anatomical structures that must work in concert with one another to function. Appropriate evaluation of hearing loss requires specialized professional training and experience. Appropriate treatment of hearing loss likewise requires a skilled professional who understands the auditory mechanism and the treatment must be highly individualized for each person in order to be successful. If you or someone you know is having difficulty hearing, seek out an evaluation by a licensed audiologist for your best hearing health care.

Lisa Davidson and Reed Norwood are doctors of audiology and co-owners of McMinnville Hearing Center, located at 904 N. Chancery St., Suite 1, McMinnville, and Cookeville Audiology & Hearing Aids, located at 728 S. Jefferson Ave., Suite 8, Cookeville. They can be reached at (931) 473-3833 or (931) 854-9499.

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