What Are Audiologists and What Is Their Role?

Primarily concerned with the investigation of the various functions of the ear, audiologists are trained specialists in this field and their role is to study those subjects that may exhibit evidence of impairment to any of these functions. The job includes taking the steps to determine, where possible, its probable cause and then to effect or to recommend a suitable course of treatment. Though this may be a relatively succinct definition its brevity fails to do justice to the full extent of the task undertaken by these valuable healthcare professionals.

In order to meet the many varied demands of the profession, those that choose it as their career will normally be required to receive training in a wide range of disciplines. Most often, these will include anatomy, physiology, neurology, acoustics and electrophysiology. In addition, a sound working knowledge of the various types of hearing aid and the operation of cochlear implants and the indications for their use will be equally essential as will proficiency in counselling and sign language.

The precise requirements for entry into the profession tend to vary from country to country but, in keeping with the many advances in this field, today, many members of the profession will have also been required to obtain a graduate qualification in addition to any specific vocational certification that he or she may hold. A significant number of this new breed of audiologists are now choosing to pursue a career in research rather than adopting the role of a clinical practitioner and these scientists are helping to advance the documented knowledge of both auditory and vestibular functions and malfunctions as well as how to prevent or cure the latter.

Why, then, might a person actually decide to pay a visit to a centre such as those now operated across South Africa by the Ear Institute? Most commonly it will have been prompted by a conviction on the part of that person that he or she is experiencing some degree of hearing loss. In other cases it may be that tinnitus, the sensation of some form of sound within the ear for which there appears to be no visible source, provided the motivation for the visit. In either case, the practitioner will normally begin by questioning the patient regarding any symptoms and their onset and performing a preliminary examination.

In some cases, it may be pus accumulated from an infection that has impaired the patient’s hearing and a simple referral to a GP or an ENT specialist may follow. Where the type of tinnitus is confirmed as objective and thus the practitioner can also detect the offending sounds personally, a referral to another specialist may also be required.

In other cases, where hearing loss is confirmed and attributable to some other underlying cause, the practitioner will probably need to employ specialised instruments to quantitate the degree of impairment and to identify its cause. Where one of the several forms of hearing aid available today is deemed appropriate, the practitioner will make a recommendation. Following any necessary measurements the unit is then fitted. On occasions though this type of device may prove inadequate to correct the hearing loss and the next step for the audiologist may then be to refer the patient for surgical implantation.

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