7 Frequently Asked Questions About Audiology

By: Courtney Thayer, AuD 

What is the ear?

There are three main parts of the ear:

1. The outer ear is the outside of the ear that we all think of when we say ear, but also includes the ear canal.

2. The middle ear is mucus lined, like your sinuses, and holds 3 of the tiniest bones in your body that push the sound into the inner ear.

3. The inner ear is where the sound is converted from a sound wave to electrical, nerve impulses that get sent to the brain for processing.

What causes hearing loss?

The main cause of hearing loss is the aging process. It can also be genetic, starting sooner in life. As we get older, things in our body slow down and it is no different with our ears. Hearing loss can be “sensorineural”, meaning permanent nerve damage. This is the most common type of hearing loss. Some people are born with hearing loss. Others have damage to the ear from exposure loud noises without proper hearing protection. Hearing loss is increasing for the younger population due to the use of ear buds at unsafe levels. For those with sensorineural hearing loss, hearing aids are the main form of treatment to give the ear back the sound that it is missing.

Another type of hearing loss is called “conductive.” This type of hearing loss means that something is blocking the sound from getting into the inner ear. This can be things like excessive ear wax or fluid built up in the middle ear space. This type of hearing loss is typically reversible using either medication or surgery and the Audiologist would refer you to an ENT doctor for medical intervention.

What is that ringing in my ears?

This is called tinnitus and is typically a symptom of hearing loss. Tinnitus is permanent, but changes, typically in volume, throughout the day. It can present itself in many different sounds: crickets, ringing, buzzing, white noise, chirping etc. Most people find tinnitus annoying but can continue daily tasks, even with the ringing present. Others, need more assistance to reduce the severity of the tinnitus and may this with noise such as having a sound machine running in the background. Others with hearing loss need the treatment of hearing aids to alleviate the tinnitus. The tinnitus will not go away, but it can be managed.

How do I know if a sound is too loud and I need hearing protection?

Sounds louder than 75-80 dB HL can be damaging over time. Very loud exposures, like gunshots, can damage the ear with the first exposure. There are many sound level meter apps that are pretty accurate. I use “Soundprint” to identify sound levels in my everyday life to determine if hearing protection is warranted. Did you know that lawn mowers, motorcycles, firearms, and other power tools are likely going to be loud enough that hearing protection is recommended? The best hearing protection for you is the one that you will wear - foam plugs, ear muffs, and custom hearing protection are all available for use.

How do I know if I need a hearing test?

1. You are regularly asking people to repeat themselves.

2. There is a constant ringing or buzzing in your ears or your head.

3. You continue to need to turn the volume on electronics up.

4. You can hear people, but not quite understand what they are saying.

5. You struggle to hear with background noise present.

6.  You have had exposure to loud noises, with and without hearing protection.

It’s always a good idea to get a baseline hearing test because we don’t know what we cannot hear, if we cannot hear it. A baseline test can help your audiologist know if there have been large, sudden changes in hearing, or if it is the more typical, gradual change in hearing. I recommend getting a baseline of hearing when an individual turns 50, and sooner if you are struggling to hear.

What will happen at my first appointment?

1. The audiologist will look in your ears.

2. A hearing test will be performed. It will take about 15 minutes. It’s just like the testing you have in school screenings, you listen for beeps and raise your hand.

3. The audiologist will be able to share the results with you at the appointment and discuss treatment options while listening to your needs for communication.

What to expect from hearing aids?

Hearing aids are digital processors that take input from our environment, put different programming parameters on the signal, and send it out of the hearing aid then into the ear for you to hear. The audiologist will use your hearing test to prescribe your settings in the hearing aids. The cost of a hearing aid is determined by the technology and the computer chip inside the devices. You will discuss your needs with the audiologist to select the best option for you. Hearing aids cannot give you normal hearing, but they can increase your environment so that you can listen with a little less effort.

Many hearing aids now have Bluetooth, direct connections to cell phones, making phone calls easier and listening to audiobooks a breeze. They are also rechargeable, decreasing the overall maintenance cost by not having to purchase hearing aid batteries or the annoyance of your hearing aid battery going out while you are out to dinner.

As an audiologist, it is my job to be knowledgeable about different technologies available for patients so that I can help you navigate the world of hearing aids and the features accessible to you, all based off your communication needs.

Audiology at Broadlawns

If you are experiencing any issues with your hearing, the Broadlawns ENT Clinic is here to help. From newborns to 100-year-olds, our team is fully equipped to provide expert evaluation and treatment to improve your quality of life.  Located on the Broadlawns Main Campus, the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm. Appointments may be scheduled by calling (515) -282-7750. All forms of insurance, including Medicaid and Medicare, are accepted.