Audiology and its Role in the Management of Hearing Loss
Audiology is a science that originated during the 1920s with the development of an instrument that was able to more accurately measure the extent of hearing loss than the kind of testing conducted prior to that. Earlier forms of testing involved little more than determining whether or not a patient could discern words whispered by a GP located a short distance behind them. While such testing could provide the qualitative evidence of deafness, it was certainly not a reliable technique with which to quantitate the degree of impairment.
This new instrument, known as an audiometer, became the first means by which to do both and marked the birth of audiology. For many years, the audiometer remained more an object of curiosity and experiment than a routine diagnostic tool and it was only in the 1940s, with the dramatic increase in noise induced hearing loss caused by gunfire among servicemen returning from World War II battlegrounds, that the interest in this now widely-applied science was re-ignited.
The more scientific approach to hearing tests helped the victims to receive the hearing aids that allowed them to be rehabilitated into the workplace and to enjoy normal lifestyles. The dramatic successes achieved during those years prompted researchers to pursue a more intensive study of the ear and its functions, while also establishing audiology, both as the research and routine diagnostic option of choice.
The role of the audiometer in improving the management of hearing loss is, of course, less obvious to the general public for whom its use is seen as routine. Nevertheless, the many improvements to its original design have made many of the applications practical that were still the theoretical basis of research projects as recently as the ‘80s and ‘90s.
With the growth of man’s knowledge of aural physiology, the many advances in technology and the steadily increasing complexity of its applications; in addition to being a science, audiology has also grown to become a profession in its own right. Its practitioners are required to hold an honours degree, while many will also have a post-graduate qualification. Over and above the correct use of instrumentation, their studies may include hearing physiology, aspects of speech therapy, procedures for conducting physical examinations of the ears and recognition of common conditions that may affect them, as well as differentiating the needs of paediatric and adult patients.
The Ear Institute operates 20 audiology centres in order to meet the needs of both South Africa and neighbouring Namibia. Staffed entirely by qualified professionals, our centres are also equipped with the latest and most advanced equipment ensuring that our services remain on par with international best practices in audiology.