October is National Audiology Awareness Month, which seems a good time to ask: Do you know how to find an audiologist to test your hearing or help you choose a hearing aid? If you’re unsure — or shaking your head no — you’re not alone.
In a short video I saw last weekend at a hearing symposium, a dozen people were stopped on the street at random and asked that question. Most of them had no idea: “Google it?” “Go to a doctor?” and “I don't know” were typical answers.
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This is not a good state of affairs and may explain why more people are turning to DIY hearing screening and, increasingly, their own testing. I’ll be writing about one of those home tests, the National Hearing Test, next week.
But even with more consumers buying hearing aids online or choosing to buy hearing aid substitutes like a personal sound amplification product (PSAP), an audiologist ideally should be the first step.
Unfortunately, that’s not an easy step to take.
Should you ask your doctor how to find a good audiologist? Your doctor is probably one of those who would answer, “I don’t know.”
The majority of primary care doctors don’t regard hearing loss as a medical issue. About 70 percent don’t even include a simple hearing screening (consisting of a few questions and maybe snapping their fingers behind your ear) in an annual physical.
You could ask an ear, nose and throat specialist, but that means making an appointment with one, which, if you simply have age-related hearing loss, is overkill. You don’t need such a specialist. You just need hearing amplification.
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Trying to find an audiologist simply by Googling the term, as several in the video suggested, may turn up a list of audiologists in your area, but you won’t know if they’re any good, what their fee structure is, or whether they even do hearing tests.
To add to the problem, the number of audiologists is declining. A 2013 study published by the American Academy of Audiology found that there were approximately 12,800 audiologists in this country providing patient care. (An additional 3,000 are researchers, professors and so on.) That is about one for every 2,400 people.
The future is not looking much better: Many of those audiologists are nearing retirement age, and the attrition rate of audiology students is high. A 2009 article in Audiology Today found that there will be fewer students entering the profession than the projected number of active audiologists who are retiring. Our aging population is going to need more, not fewer audiologists.
So what should you do? Here are six suggestions (and one warning on when to see a doctor instead):
- Contact the ear, nose and throat department of your nearest university medical center and ask if it has a list of audiologists in your area.
- If you have a Costco in your area, you might find an audiologist there. Costco is a large retailer of hearing aids, and many of its stores have audiologists on site. (Other big-box stores also sell hearing aids, but often don’t have audiologists.)
- Call your state university and see if it has an audiology training program. If it does, it probably also has a clinic.
- Go to the website of the American Academy of Audiology and search “find an audiologist.”
- Contact the closest chapter of the Hearing Loss Association of America and ask if it has a list of audiologists in your area.
- Ask a friend who wears hearing aids for a recommendation.
- Don’t see an audiologist for hearing problems that have been triggered by a medical condition that requires immediate attention. Some of the warning signs include sudden hearing loss in one or both ears; hearing loss accompanied by vision problems, dizziness or nausea; or pain or discomfort in the ear. If you have one or more of these symptoms, see an ear, nose and throat doctor.
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