Definition and Overview
Audiology consultation is the first step to getting treatment for hearing loss, which is a common problem that often develops with age or when certain problems damage any part of the ear. Hearing loss ranges from mild to profound. A mild case of hearing loss means the patient has difficulty hearing soft or distant speech or finds it challenging to have a normal conversation where there is a lot of background noise. Profound hearing loss, on the other hand, is equivalent to total deafness that patients rely on manual communication skills such as signing.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
Audiology consultation is often sought when patients experience the following symptoms:
- Difficulty hearing when there’s background noise
- Hearing voices as mumbled or slurred
- Difficulty following conversations
- Feeling of pressure in the ear
- Ringing or buzzing sounds in the ears
- Having to ask things to be repeated over and over
- Inability to hear high-pitched sounds as well as female and child voices
Patients who experience a problem with their ears typically consult an ENT doctor who diagnose, manage and treat conditions that affect the ears, nose and throat. If the cause of the hearing loss is something that can be physically treated (such as perforated eardrum or fused inner ear bones), the ENT specialist will handle the condition. However, in cases where a sudden hearing loss is experienced and is not linked to physical pain, patients are referred to an audiologist for an audiological evaluation.
The expected result of audiology consultation is determining the presence or absence of hearing loss. In the case of the former, the audiologist will also determine the cause and type and degree of hearing loss, which will be taken into consideration when choosing the best treatment option for the patient.
How Does the Procedure Work
Audiology consultation takes place in a hospital or clinic that is fully equipped to perform a number of diagnostic hearing tests. It begins with a short interview in which the patient is asked about his symptoms and when they started, his lifestyle, activities and the kind of environment he lives in. The audiologist will also review the patient’s medical record, family history of hearing problems and medications that he is taking, among others.
If the audiologist has reasons to believe that the patient has diminished hearing, certain tests will be performed before he will make a diagnosis. These tests include:
- Pure tone audiometry – This is a behavioral test that measures hearing sensitivity by assessing the patient’s peripheral and central auditory systems. Hearing loss is measured in decibels. 0-25 dB is considered to be within normal limits. Anything outside of these numbers confirms a degree of hearing loss.
- 26-40 dB means that the patient has mild hearing loss and is unable to hear soft speech and has difficulty suppressing background noise.
- 41-55 dB indicates moderate hearing loss and this affects articulation, language development and interaction with peers, leading to low self-esteem.
- 56-70 dB indicates moderate to severe hearing loss, which makes hearing most conversational-level speech nearly impossible for the patient.
- 71-90 dB is referred to as severe hearing loss
- greater than 90 dB means that the patient has profound hearing loss or total deafness.
Speech audiometry – This test is performed while the patient is seated in the sound booth and wearing headphones. The goal is to measure the patient’s ability to recognize words. The audiologist will say words that the patient must repeat.
Auditory brainstem response (ABR) – This test is performed to assess the function of the inner ear and brain pathways in relation to hearing. It uses electrodes that are attached to the head to record brain wave activity in response to sound while the patient is asleep or rests quietly.
Otoacoustic emission testing (OAE) – This measures hair cell function in the inner ear. This is performed by inserting a small plug in the ear where a series of clicks or tones are delivered.
Transtympanic electrocochleography – This diagnoses the presence of diseases, such as Meniere’s disease, that could be causing the hearing problem.
As some tests can take up to 90 minutes, the audiologist may require the patient to make a series of consultations until the cause of the hearing loss is determined. Once all diagnostic procedures have been completed, the audiologist will present his findings. Depending on the cause of the condition, treatment options may include the use of hearing assistive technologies, medications or surgical procedures.
Possible Complications and Risks
Audiology consultation poses no risk or possible complications for the patient even if the diagnostic tests listed above are performed. This is because all the tests are non-invasive.
- CDC: "Frequently Asked Questions on General Information on Hearing Loss."
- National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders: "Hearing Aids."