Audiologists are highly trained individuals in hearing and auditory problems. This article covers the role of the audiologist, how to find one and what to expect – and what you can do to promote your child’s hearing.
What is an Audiologist?
Audiologists are university qualified professionals who:
- assess and diagnose hearing and balance problems
- provide support to enable people to manage their hearing problem
- ensure appropriate referrals across the health/education/disability support services.
Audiologists have a minimum of 6 years of tertiary education and supervision, to enable them to provide clinical services to patients. Where necessary they will work with other health professionals such as Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialists, general practitioners, Speech Language Therapists, Hearing Therapists, and Advisors of Deaf and Hearing Impaired Children.
An audiologist can evaluate a child’s hearing to determine whether there is any hearing loss and make recommendations for hearing health care.
When should I see an audiologist?
Often with children it can be difficult for parents to determine if their child has a problem with hearing. If your child displays any of the following signs, talk to your doctor about the need for a referral to an audiologist:
- Your child seems to be speaking differently from other children
- Your child is slow to develop language compared to other children their age
- There is any risk that the child may have an inherited hearing loss or may have acquired a hearing loss from birth
- Your child does not respond to sounds or people’s voices
- Your child seems to have difficulty understanding what people are saying
Adults should see an audiologist if they are worried about hearing problems including:
- Constant ringing or buzzing in their ear (known as tinnitus)
- Diminished hearing– having trouble hearing people
- Worry about the damaging effects of noise in the work environment
- Exposure to loud sounds, for example, members of a band
How do I find an audiologist?
Audiologists work in a variety of settings including public clinics (often located at your local hospital), privately owned clinics and universities.
The New Zealand Audiological Society (NZAS) provides an online list of local audiologists at www.audiology.org.nz and you can also find an audiologist in your area on www.independentaudiologistsnz.co.nz You can also check with your doctor, or look under `Audiologists’ or `Hearing’ in the yellow pages of your telephone book.
There is no charge if you have a hearing assessment by an audiologist in the public sector, although you do need to be referred by your doctor. Expect to pay $50-100 for an initial assessment to see an audiologist privately, although this is variable from clinic to clinic. Children’s hearing aids are completely funded in New Zealand, but adults either have to pay for hearing aids or apply for subsidies (for example, from organisations such as ACC).
What will an audiologist do?
An audiologist will want to know if you have any family history of hearing problems and will ask questions relating to your child’s hearing. They will carry out a range of hearing assessments and tests. With children testing is non-intrusive and is often done as part of a game – for example, your child may be asked to put a peg in a board when they hear a particular sound.
An audiologist can assess hearing in all groups, including newborns and those with severe disabilities. The government is about to introduce a national newborn hearing screening programme to ensure children born with hearing loss are identified quickly, so that appropriate help can be provided. Screening programmes have already been successfully launched in some parts of the country, but if you have any concerns about your child’s hearing you should ask your doctor to refer you to an audiologist.
Following the hearing assessment the audiologist will share their findings with you and any recommendations they have for your child. This may include:
- Referral to a specialist doctor such as an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist
- Referral to a speech therapist
- Recommendations for hearing aids or listening devices and fitting them for you
- Providing advice to modify the listening environment
- Providing appropriate hearing protection to prevent a hearing loss
Other things that audiologists can do include:
- Assessing how brain processes affect people’s hearing
- Giving you preventative information on keeping your hearing healthy
- Doing research into hearing problems
- Assessing classroom or workplace noise levels
- Helping to rehabilitate people who have suffered hearing loss following an accident or illness
What can I do to help my hearing?
Undetected hearing loss can cause long term speech and learning problems for children. As parents, we can be aware of factors that can affect hearing and signs of hearing impairment.
Those at risk of developing hearing problems include:
- Children who have suffered repeated ear infections
- Babies born prematurely
- Those who have had a complicated birth
- Those who have been exposed to loud noise
- Those who have a family history of hearing problems
Signs of hearing loss can include:
- Failure to startle or jump to loud noises and turn towards sound by the age of 6 months – this may require investigation
- Little or poor speech
- A child who does not concentrate or becomes easily distracted
- Turning up the volume of the television or radio.
Professional organisations & websites on audiology:
This is the website of the New Zealand Audiological Society (NZAS) which is a professional society for audiologists practising in New Zealand.
Independent Audiologists is a nation-wide group of highly trained audiologists who work independently of any specific hearing aid companies.
The National Audiology Centre is located in Remuera, Auckland and can be contacted on 09 520 4009.