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Ask Dr. Gott 3/15
Audiologist a first step in diagnosing hearing problems
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    DEAR DR. GOTT: I am a deaf-education major taking an audiology class. It was recently brought to my attention that a reader had written to you regarding a problem with his hearing. You advised him to see an ear, nose and throat specialist in order to get the problem checked out. However, referring that reader to an audiologist would have benefited him much more, considering that he had a hearing problem, not just a problem with his ear in general. An audiologist would not only be able to identify if there were a common problem within the ear, but also could test the person's hearing. This would allow the specialist to determine if there were hearing loss and if surgery needed to be performed in order to correct the problem.
    People have been making the mistake of going to a physician for hearing problems for years. Since you are giving advice to those who probably do what you say, I thought it would help if I submitted this information to you before another reader follows your advice.
    DEAR READER: Since publishing this column a number of months ago, I received several letters confirming your approach to the reader's hearing problem. Here I go with another approach to the original issue.
    Audiologists are trained professionals who treat and manage individuals with balance problems and hearing loss. Their academic and clinical training includes a master's or doctoral degree from an accredited university graduate program. They are required to complete a full-time internship and pass a national competency examination. With graduation and licensure, audiologists are the most qualified professionals to perform hearing tests, provide rehabilitation services and refer patients for medical treatment. Audiologists typically work in schools, rehabilitation centers, hospitals, medical centers and with hearing-aid manufacturers.
    Treatment decisions are made by combining a complete patient history with a variety of auditory and vestibular assessments through the utilization of special equipment. Testing is typically conducted in sound-proof rooms.
    Otolaryngologists (ear, nose and throat specialists) are doctors trained in the medical/surgical management and treatment of patients with disorders and diseases of the ear, nose, throat and related structures of the head and neck. ENTs treat tinnitus, balance disorders, noise damage, nerve pain, chronic sinusitis and a great deal more. To qualify for certification, an applicant must complete college, medical school (ordinarily four years), at least five years of training in the specialty, and then pass the examination of the American Board of Otolaryngology. If more extensive training in one of seven subspecialties is chosen, an additional one- or two-year fellowship is then required.
    An otolaryngologist differs from many physicians in that he or she is trained in medicine and surgery and does not need to refer patients to another physician for issues in this field.
    To respond to your statement, I suppose I could have suggested an audiologist as a first step in determining the reader's hearing problem. I chose to bypass the audiology visit and proceeded directly to the ENT input. I didn't hear from any otolaryngologists suggesting an audiologist as an initial step, so maybe I didn't stub my toe too much.
    Readers who would like more information on hearing problems can obtain additional information by ordering my Health Report "Ear Infections and Disorders." Send a self-addressed, stamped No. 10 envelope and $2 to Newsletter, PO Box 167, Wickliffe, OH 44092. Be sure to mention the title.
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