The word audiology is made up of two roots: Audio and Logy. ‘Audio’ refers to ‘hear’ and ‘logy’ to ‘the study of’. In essence, audiology is the study of hearing - as the inner ear is also required for balance, this is also included in the study. In medical terms it is the branch of science dedicated to the study of hearing, balance and their associated disorders.
Audiologist medical equipment room - Image Credit: xiao yu / Shutterstock
A Brief History of Audiology
Somewhere in the 4th century BC, Hippocrates wrote about hearing loss and his clinical research into its cause. The famous Greek doctor believed that hearing loss was related to the direction of the wind, change in weather and tinnitus.
Around the 1st century AD, sound was used by the Roman doctor Arhigenes to try and stimulate the auditory system. While in the 4th century AD, Physician Alexander of Tralles tried blowing a trumpet into the ear canal along with the use of herbs to cure hearing loss.
In the year 1898 the first electronic hearing aid was developed by Miller Reese Hutchison. It was called the Akouphone. It wasn’t till the early part of the 20th century that an experimental branch of psychology decided to study auditory perception.
An instrument to measure hearing loss was invented and designed in 1920. It was called the audiometer and would be used for hearing loss research intensively. It is also the basis of a number of inventions made since.
Audiology gained a major boost in the late 1940s after World War 2 as a number of servicemen returned with noise- induced hearing loss. It was their rehabilitation programs that gave the science a major boost. In fact the first time the word “audiology” appeared in print was in 1946 in the Journal of Speech Disorders and the Volta Review.
By the 1960s, audiology programs, helping with speech and aural rehabilitation, became more common. In the last two decades this has been the fastest growing private practice and an increasing number of people are finding employment in the sector. The Academy of Doctors of Audiology was founded in 1977. In 1978 ASHA was founded - this is the American Speech and Hearing Association.
Since 2007 all new practitioners who enter the sector need to have an Au.D degree to work in the field. This is essentially a doctor of audiology degree which current day audiologists must have to establish a private practice.
Who is an Audiologist?
Audiology combines the best available technology with medical science to come up with solutions to hearing or balance disorders people have. People who practice audiology are called audiologists. Audiologists are responsible for managing and rehabilitation of disorders related to hearing as well as balance.
Audiologists have a Doctorate in Audiology from an accredited university. They are trained to care for patients ranging from new born babies to elderly people. The wide age spectrum includes a multitude of possible problems that they need to resolve. They work with a multidisciplinary team to provide these individualized solutions for their patients.
There are a number of diagnostic tests that can be employed by an audiologist to help better understand the disorder that a patient is suffering from. Some of these include auditory brainstem evoked response and auditory steady state response testing, otoacoustic emissions, acousitic immittance measures, visual reinforcement and play audiometry for children.
The type of diagnosis made will depend on the symptoms that the patient is complaining about. Not all diagnostic tests are done on all patients. It is the job of the audiologist to narrow down the testing options based on what he learns from the patient, their family history and other physical indications and symptoms.
The results of the diagnostic tests will help the audiologist to understand the disorder that a patient is suffering from so that they may plan the treatment. Most hearing related issues are resolved with auditory rehabilitation consultation, which includes the use of hearing aids.
Cochlear implant pre-evaluation and post- implantation care is also a regular treatment for hearing loss. The audiologist will also help the patient with communication skills counselling as well as helping the care givers of the patient and other family members counselling. Needless to say the audiologic evaluation is the basis of the treatment.
Audiology and Technology
Since its inception, the field of audiology has been dependant on the type of technology available to it. Measuring hearing loss, the impact of the loss on the patient’s ability to communicate, the rehabilitation with hearing aids, all need technology based gadgets.
Over the last few decades, both the technology available has improved and the solutions being offered by audiologists. The new gadgets make recording hearing loss easier and more accurate. They allow screening for hearing loss in newborn babies – this has enabled treatment of hearing loss in early infancy and fitting of hearing aids within weeks of being born.