What Does an Audiologist Do?
Audiologists conduct a wide variety of tests for patients with hearing disorders to determine the exact nature of the hearing problem and interpret the results of the tests to recommend a course of treatment. They can recommend, fit and dispense hearing devices. Audiologists provide rehabilitative services, education and counseling for patients and their families. Tests performed by an audiologist include:
- Otoacoustic Emissions (OAE) are sounds produced by the normally functioning cochlea. The OAE test is typically used as a preliminary screening test. The procedure involves placing a small probe in the outer ear canal with the patient sitting still and quietly. A computer analyzes the emissions or lack thereof. This test does not require the child’s active participation and usually takes about 15 minutes.
- Middle Ear Testing searches for the presence of fluid or other middle ear dysfunction. The results are presented in a diagram called a tympanogram.
- The Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) and the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) Test consist of sounds that are presented to a child’s ears through earphones. Small electrodes are taped to the child’s head and a computer analyzes responses. The infant or child must be completely still and is often sedated for this test. Testing usually takes less than one hour.
- Behavioral Hearing Tests are used with children who are able to respond to sounds either by turning their head or by playing a game. For young children there are usually two evaluators: an audiologist outside the sound booth monitoring the testing and another person, usually a parent, inside who plays games with the child. Testing takes less than one hour.
Audiologists give behavioral tests that offer three important types of information. They measure the degree of hearing loss and assist in locating the source of the problem. These tests can indicate how the hearing loss will affect the child’s ability to communicate.
There are two types of behavioral tests:
- Threshold testing measures the quietest tones or speech that a child is able to hear.
- Word recognition testing measures the child’s ability to understand speech at comfortable loudness levels.
Infants with hearing loss can be fitted with hearing aids as early as four weeks of age. With timely amplification and appropriate intervention, the likelihood of more normal speech and language development is significantly improved.