Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re suffering from hearing loss or another ear condition, it can be unnerving not knowing what to expect. We’ve compiled a list of our most frequently asked questions to make it easier for you to get an idea of what to expect when you visit Colorado West Audiologists.
What is an audiologist?
Audiologists are healthcare professionals who specialize in diagnosing and treating hearing loss, as well as conditions like tinnitus and balance disorders. Although practicing audiologist must hold a master’s degree in audiology, the standard for new audiologists is a doctorate in audiology. Audiologists are also licensed by the state they practice in and can achieve additional certifications such as ASHA’s Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology (CCC-A) or a Fellowship with the American Academy of Audiology.
What types of tests and treatments do audiologists perform?
Audiologists provide a wide range of tests and treatments for hearing conditions. The following list is an overview of the services our audiologists provide:
- Diagnostic hearing tests and evaluations
- Pediatric hearing loss detection and treatment
- Ear or hearing-related surgical monitoring in hospital settings
- Assistance with cochlear implant programs
- Hearing aid fitting and consultation
- Hearing aid repairs and maintenance
- Earmold and earplug fitting and consultation
- Tinnitus treatment programs
- Dizziness and balance testing and treatments
- Hearing rehabilitation and auditory training
- Hearing conservation and protection programs
How do I know if I have hearing loss?
You or a family member may have hearing loss if you show any of the following behavior:
- You hear people speaking but strain to understand their words.
- You frequently ask people to repeat themselves or complain that they mumble.
- You miss jokes at parties and details at meetings you attend.
- You find it easier to understand what people are saying when you look at them.
- You miss environmental sounds.
- You play the TV or radio louder than others.
- You can’t hear the doorbell or the telephone.
- You avoid certain environments because they are too noisy or certain people because you can never understand what they’re saying.
- You hear a ringing sound in your ears, especially when it’s quiet.
What are the signs of hearing loss in children?
Hearing loss is often detected by infant hearing screenings, but some genetic conditions appear later in childhood. Other causes include ear infections, head trauma or certain medications. You should suspect your child has a hearing loss if you observe any of the following behavior:
- Delays in speech and language acquisition, including baby babbling
- Frequent ear infections
- Not startling to loud sounds
- Not turning toward sounds after six months of age
- Difficulty following verbal directions
- Frequent daydreaming
- Concerns by school teachers or failed school hearing screenings
- Complaints from the child that they cannot hear
- Using high volume on the TV or radio
A pediatric audiologist should address any symptoms of hearing loss in children promptly so that speech, language and academic development are not delayed or impacted.
What causes hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be caused by many things: genetic traits, diseases, the normal aging process, overexposure to loud sounds, medications, ear infections, head injuries and more. That’s why audiologists factor in your medical history, symptoms and lifestyle to diagnose the cause of your hearing loss.
How is hearing loss diagnosed?
If you have any symptoms of hearing loss, you should see an audiologist for a hearing evaluation. This diagnostic hearing evaluation allows the audiologist to determine the type, nature and degree of your hearing loss by assessing your reaction to sound input and your speech understanding under different conditions. A hearing evaluation will also include a case history and a visual inspection of the ear canal and eardrum, tests of middle ear function and any additional tests your audiologist believes could be helpful in diagnosing your hearing condition
The results of your hearing evaluation are plotted on a graph called an audiogram, which provides a visual view of your hearing ability across various pitches or frequencies, especially the ones necessary for understanding speech. Your audiologist will use these results to create a prescription for programming your hearing aids.
If your hearing evaluation reveals a medical problem, your audiologist will refer you to a physician or specialist for further treatment.
What are the different degrees of hearing loss?
The degree of hearing loss is measured in decibels (dB) of hearing loss and described by general categories. The category is diagnosed based on the affected decibel range your audiogram reveals. Most hearing professionals use the following hearing level categories and their accompanying decibel ranges:
- Normal hearing (0-25 dB HL)
- Mild hearing loss (26-40 dB HL)
- Moderate hearing loss (41-70 dB HL)
- Severe hearing loss (71-90 dB HL)
- Profound hearing loss (greater than 91 dB HL)
What are the different types of hearing loss?
There are four types of hearing loss. Sensorineural, conductive and mixed hearing losses are the most common, while auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder (ANSD) is rare.
Sensorineural hearing loss: This type of hearing loss indicates a problem with the inner ear – whether the hair cells, nerve fibers or inner ear organs. It’s also the most common, accounting for over 90 percent of all cases that require hearing aids. The most common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are the aging process and noise exposure, although it can also be caused by inner ear circulation problems, inner ear fluid pressure or nerve transmission problems. There are many options for treating this type of hearing loss, including hearing aids.
Conductive hearing loss: Conductive hearing impairment occurs when there is a problem in the external or middle ear that interrupts the efficient flow of sound through the ear canal, eardrum or tiny bones of the middle ear and makes it harder to hear. Conductive losses can be caused by earwax buildup and other obstructions, fluid in the middle ear (usually from middle ear infections), a perforated eardrum or a disease. Audiologists can identify this type of hearing loss, but will refer cases to a physician or specialist for further evaluation and medical or surgical treatment.
Mixed hearing loss: When there are problems in both the middle and inner ear, it’s described as a mixed hearing impairment.
What style of hearing aid do I need?
The type, style and size of hearing aid you need depends on your hearing condition, lifestyle and preferences. There are in-the-ear styles, behind-the-ear styles and basic digital hearing aids with manual controls or advanced hearing aids that make automatic adjustments. While helping you select a style of hearing aid, your audiologist will consider the following:
- The type/degree of your hearing loss
- The power requirements for your hearing loss
- Your manual dexterity and visual abilities
- Your budget
- Device cosmetics and aesthetics preferences
- Any skin sensitivities
- Anatomical and medical considerations
What are assistive listening devices (ALDs)?
ALDs, or assistive listening devices, are designed to increase the loudness of a speech source (such as a radio, television or a public speaker) without increasing the background noise. Unlike hearing aid microphones, which remain close to the listener, the microphone of the ALD is placed close to the speaker or device.
Types of ALDs include alarm clocks, TV listening systems, telephone-amplifying devices and auditorium-type assistive listening systems. Many newer devices are small, wireless and compatible with digital hearing aids.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus, often referred to as ringing in the ears or head noise, is a common disorder affecting over 50 million people in the United States. Tinnitus can be intermittent or constant, with single or multiple tones and the perceived volume can range from very soft to extremely loud.
Tinnitus itself is not a disease, but a symptom of an underlying condition of the ear, auditory nerve or another body system.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus has many possible causes and often no apparent cause. However, there are several factors that can cause tinnitus or make it worse. These include noise-induced or age-related hearing loss, wax build-up in the ear canal, certain medications, ear or sinus infections, ear diseases and disorders, jaw misalignment, cardiovascular disease, certain types of tumors, thyroid disorders and head and neck trauma.
How is tinnitus treated?
Most patients will not need medical treatment for tinnitus, but there are many treatments and methods that can help manage it. Things like listening to white noise from a fan or radio and avoiding suspected medications and stressful or high-volume environments that trigger tinnitus can help. Treating hearing loss with hearing aids often treats tinnitus, and some people benefit from additional tinnitus masking devices.
Audiologist VS hearing aid dispenser: what’s the difference?
In a nutshell, an audiologist is a Doctor of Audiology who is extensively trained in the science of hearing, while a hearing aid dispenser applies for a license after meeting basic requirements.
An audiologist is highly educated and trained to diagnose, treat and monitor disorders of the hearing and balance system. They are trained in anatomy and physiology, amplification devices, cochlear implants, electrophysiology, acoustics, psychophysics and auditory rehabilitation. Doctors of Audiology complete an undergraduate and doctoral level degree in audiology, as well as a supervised externship prior to state licensure and national certification. After completing their training, audiologists must also pass a national standardized exam to be eligible for state licensure and meet continuing education requirements to maintain their licensing.
A hearing aid dispenser is licensed to perform audiometric testing for the sole purpose of selling and fitting hearing aids. To obtain a license, hearing aid dispensers must meet the requirements set by their state and pass a state-licensing exam. The requirements vary greatly, from a high school diploma to post-secondary education or additional coursework.
The differences in education required for audiologists versus hearing aid dispensers reflect the larger range of professional practices that audiologists are permitted to engage in. Audiologists are highly trained professionals whose extensive training in the assessment of hearing, diagnosis, fitting and adjustment of hearing aids helps ensure an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan or intervention.
Ask a pro
Q: When’s the best time to have my hearing tested?
A: Now! Even if you have normal hearing, now is the time to have it tested. This establishes a “baseline.” Later, if your ability to hear changes, your doctor and your audiologist will be better equipped to determine how much and how rapidly it has changed. This will help greatly in planning a proper course of action.
Q: What is “recreational hearing loss?”
A: Summertime in western Colorado is rich with opportunities for enjoying a host of outdoor activities from A-Z (ATV-ing to zip-lining). Some of those activities can lead to “recreational hearing loss.” Most people remember to protect their skin from the high desert sun but how many of us remember to protect our hearing? While sunshine is great for our mood and offers a fun time to enjoy our favorite activities, it’s important to remember that many popular summer happenings can be hazardous to our ears. Prolonged exposure to the sounds of lawn mowers, power tools, motorized vehicles, sporting events, concerts and more can lead to irreversible hearing damage. Luckily, by taking a few simple precautions to safeguard our hearing during the summer months, we can enjoy a safe, healthy and happy summer.
Experts at the Better Hearing Institute, an organization devoted to educating people about proper hearing health and the benefits of hearing loss treatment, offer these important tips:
- Use earplugs: If we think we might be exposed to loud sounds, whether it comes from target shooting, dirt biking or even something as mundane as a lawnmower, let’s always remember to wear earplugs or protective muffs. When used correctly, disposable foam or silicone plugs are readily available and can allow us to hear important sounds while blocking dangerously loud noises. Even better are custom earmolds for a personalized fit that guarantees comfortable, durable and dependable protection. Prevention is cheaper and more convenient that living with and treating hearing loss.
- Keep the volume down: When the windows are open and the sounds of summer are all around, it may be tempting to turn up the volume on our TVs, radios, movies or music—but this can be damaging to our hearing! When we use earbuds or headphones to listen to personal music devices such as iPods and other MP3 players, we frequently play our music too loudly. Let’s keep the volume at a safe level and resist the urge to crank up the sound. Remember: once the tiny “hair cells” in the cochlea are damaged, they do not grow back.
- Limit time in noisy environments: Let’s take steps to limit the length of time we spend in noisy environments. When participating in noisy activities, let’s give ourselves periodic quiet breaks—and remember our earplugs! Those of us planning to attend any of the nearly dozen outdoor concerts taking place in western Colorado and eastern Utah this summer should seriously consider “musician’s earplugs.” These custom-fitted little gems are prized by professional musicians the world over because they are designed to keep the loud music at safe levels while allowing performers to still hear the full range of their music. They work equally well for concert-goers! Check with an audiologist for more info.
- Protect against swimmer’s ear: For many of us, there’s nothing more refreshing than a cool swim or some whitewater kayaking or rafting on a hot day, but water in our ear canals can lead to a painful infection known as swimmer’s ear. We can protect ourselves by investing in a pair of swimmer’s plugs to wear during our favorite water activities. We should also dry our ears thoroughly and tilt our heads to the side to drain any residual water from our ear canals. No Q-Tips allowed!
- Enjoy fireworks safely: Fireworks may be synonymous with the 4th of July, but somehow fireworks linger all through the summer, mysteriously appearing in many a backyard for impromptu celebrations. The loud noise from these displays is often equivalent to gunfire and can permanently damage our hearing. I’m sure many of us have noticed that the first “boom” is often the loudest. After that, the rest don’t seem quite so loud. That’s not because the first one was stronger than the rest. It’s because we’ve just damaged our hearing. Sometimes our ears recover but, there’s no guarantee that it will. With that in mind, let’s enjoy fireworks from a safe distance and, for added protection, wear earplugs.
Whether at a backyard barbecue, a summer concert or taming a wild river, remembering these simple steps for protecting our hearing will help ensure that we’ll be able to enjoy our favorite activities for many more years to come!
JO-AN MEALLER, M.S., CCC-A, F-AAA
Jo-an Mealler, has been a practicing Audiologist for over 3 decades, with 25 of those years in Grand Junction. She holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Audiology from Colorado State University and has completed extensive post-graduate work from the University of Iowa. Jo-an is a Fellow of the American Academy of Audiology, is board-certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and is state and nationally certified to practice audiology and dispense hearing aids.
Q: Can hearing loss affect my outdoor recreation?
A: Hearing loss robs us of the richness of the Great Outdoors. Not hearing footsteps on the trail, stories around a campfire, line spooling off a reel or hummingbirds darting through the forest, limits us to a one-dimensional walk in the woods.
The Solitude of Crag Crest Trail is Far From Silent
Solitude needn’t be silent.
Call us. We’ll help you reclaim the joy of the Great Outdoors.
KELLAN WILLIAMS, BC-HIS
For more thoughts about hearing loss and maximizing your outdoor experience, visit these links:
Q: Should motorcyclists worry about their hearing?
A: Yes! Research shows that the main cause of hearing loss among motorcyclists is wind noise. At 35 mph and above wind noise, at the ear, (even with a full, snug fitting helmet) is as loud as a chainsaw and will cause permanent hearing damage over time. Call us. We can help you protect your hearing and still enjoy your bike. For more on this topic check out the following links:
DR. JOE MCDERMOTT, AU.D.
Q: I’m afraid hearing aids will make me look old
A: Many things make us look old, like always telling people to “stop mumbling,” staying home instead of being out having fun or losing a promotion to someone who seems “sharper.” Hearing loss makes us seem old. Dealing with it helps us look and act younger. Call us. We can help.
KELLAN WILLIAMS, BC-HIS
Q: Can hearing aids help my balance?
A: Sometimes. Imagine trying to maintain balance with your eyes closed and ears plugged. While some balance issues aren’t hearing-related, per se, a recent study showed that hearing aid users performed better in balance tests when both hearing aids were turned on rather than off.
JOE MCDERMOTT, AU.D.
Q: How often should hearing aids be replaced?
A: We help our patients maximize the value of their hearing aids with regular maintenance, reprogramming and repairs. However, many choose to upgrade their hearing aids every four to five years. By then, technology has improved so much that it often makes more sense to upgrade. By about the seventh year, the scarcity of critical parts makes repairs virtually impossible.
DR. JOE MCDERMOTT, AU.D.
Q: Hearing loss is normal. Why should I worry about it?
A: Hearing loss is more than not hearing well. It has been shown to increase the risk of brain shrinkage, memory problems, stress, fatigue, mental decline, dementia, social isolation and depression – any of which can be life changing for you and your family. If you’re ready to learn more about your hearing health, call us. We can help!