Audiology Awareness Month: How has audiology evolved and what sets audiologists apart today?
by Envoy Medical Staff Member, on October 1, 2023
As the leaves change their colors and a crispness fills the air, October brings with it Audiology Awareness Month. This is the perfect opportunity to acknowledge and applaud these professionals who tirelessly work to improve the lives of patients facing hearing, balance, and other related challenges. Is your hearing professional an audiologist? Have you ever wondered how audiology evolved from its humble beginnings to the cutting-edge discipline it is today?
Understanding the difference between an audiologist and a hearing aid dispenser, also known as a hearing instrument specialist or hearing aid specialist, is crucial. As a consumer, it can be challenging because both professionals have the ability to test and dispense hearing aids. However, there are important distinctions. While both require state licensure, dispensers primarily conduct hearing tests with the intention of selling hearing aids. Their education requires a high school diploma or an associate's degree, along with any specific requirements mandated by state licensure.
Becoming an audiologist requires a Master's or doctoral degree in audiology and over 1800 hours of hands-on experience. Audiologists perform comprehensive hearing evaluations to diagnose and provide treatment for various types of hearing loss. Additionally, they specialize in evaluating and treating dizziness and balance disorders, including conditions like tinnitus and hyperacusis. As part of a medical team, audiologists also conduct pre- and post-operative hearing evaluations. It's worth mentioning that they are able to bill insurance and Medicare for medically necessary hearing and balance evaluations. Audiologists are also skilled in fitting and providing hearing aids for individuals of all ages, from adults to children. In addition, some audiologists specialize in evaluating and treating patients who require cochlear implants or other implantable hearing devices.
Historically, the military has been a significant driver of advancements in audiology research, education, and practice.
In the early 1900s, there was a belief that developing a tolerance to noise could prevent hearing loss.
However, in 1944, the Armored Medical Research Laboratory conducted a groundbreaking study that changed this perspective. The study resulted in a strong recommendation that individuals regularly exposed to the intense blasts of gunfire, such as gun crews and gunnery instructors, should be equipped with hearing-protective devices. This revelation marked a significant shift in understanding the importance of protecting one's hearing in high-risk environments.
In the aftermath of World War II, audiology faced a new challenge as returning servicemen grappled with unprecedented levels of noise-induced hearing loss. In the 1960s, audiology programs dedicated to speech and rehabilitation began to gain prominence. This marked a significant turning point in the profession, as experts realized the significance of addressing not only hearing loss but also its impact on communication skills and overall well-being.
Both the military and the VA have had a substantial impact on the audiology profession through their contributions to research, education, technology, and healthcare services. These contributions continue to benefit not only military personnel and veterans but also the broader civilian population in need of audiological care.
In 1977, the Academy of Doctors of Audiology (ADA) was established, solidifying audiology as a recognized healthcare discipline. Just a year later, the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) assumed its present name, further reaffirming the commitment to advancing the field and advocating for individuals with communication disorders.
In 2007, it became mandatory for all aspiring professionals to possess a doctorate degree known as the Au.D. or Doctor of Audiology. This solidified the importance of advanced education and expertise in the field, ensuring the highest level of care for individuals with hearing, balance, and related challenges.
As we celebrate Audiology Awareness Month, let us not only honor the achievements and progress made in the past, but also anticipate a future filled with innovations and improved quality of life for those dealing with hearing, balance, and related difficulties.