Ask the Audiologist: How Has the Audiology Profession Evolved Over the Years?
Even though historians have found mentions of treating hearing loss as early as 1550 BCE, audiology itself is actually a very young profession that did not emerge as we know it today until the 20th century. It was during the early 1900s that psychoacoustics (the study of auditory perception) came to be recognized as a distinct branch of experimental psychology. In the 1920s, the first audiometer (the device for measuring hearing) was invented.
The profession of audiology was born out of World War II when thousands of men and women returned home with noise-induced hearing loss. To serve these veterans, the US government established hearing rehabilitation services in military hospitals designed to assess and treat hearing loss. Practice standards and procedures were gradually established. The audiology profession soon expanded beyond government services and across the country, while in parallel, universities began offering professional education for aspiring audiologists.
Over the decades, audiology grew and expanded to serve patients in all stages of life and in a variety of settings. Today, you may know us as the professionals in clinics and private practices who can test your hearing and fit you with hearing aids. But our expertise also encompasses other areas, like dizziness and balance disorders, auditory neuroscience, and tinnitus.
Here are some other settings where you can find audiologists:
Military and Veterans Affair services. Commissioned and civilian audiologists continue to serve our military and veterans. They educate active duty service personnel on the importance of hearing protection and continuously monitoring and caring for their hearing health throughout their service. For veterans who have documented hearing and/or balance disorders, audiologists treat them in VA hospitals around the country.
Schools. Educational audiologists work in schools to support children with hearing loss and auditory processing disorders. We make sure that students’ amplification devices (hearing aids, cochlear implants, FM systems, etc.) work properly, and provide auditory rehabilitation therapy to help them learn to hear.
Hospitals. Audiologists in hospitals help diagnose and treat hearing and balance disorders like they do in private practice and clinics. But we can also be found in the operating rooms where we provide interoperative monitoring of cranial nerves during certain surgeries. We are also in the maternity wards providing hearing screening to newborn babies.
Industry. In manufacturing plants, constructions sites, and other environments where noise can reach dangerously loud levels, conservation audiologists are on site to ensure that employees’ hearing is adequately protected. We follow government-established guidelines to identify excessively noisy areas, provide remedial recommendations, and implement hearing conservation programs for the affected workforce.
Hearing and medical device manufacturers. Companies that develop hearing aids and other amplification devices and diagnostic equipment all rely on the expertise of audiologists like me. With our knowledge and experience, we can provide unique input on the products that patients and other hearing care professionals require, and we help to develop and market the resulting items.
Academia. Audiologists are also researchers, scientists, and professors in universities and scientific institutions. We seek to learn more about the human auditory system, develop new diagnostic tools and treatment strategies, and we pass our knowledge on to the next generation of audiologists who will continue to care for the human hearing and balance systems.
As you can see, the practice of audiology has evolved greatly over the years. It’s also expanded into specialized fields, where our knowledge about hearing loss and related conditions help people at work, school, and any other situation to better hear the world around them.