Audiologists are not Salespeople from Mars

The word on social media is that audiologists only want to sell hearing aids. Audiologists don’t have a clue what it’s like for people living with hearing loss. It’s as if audiologists are from a different planet.

This goes to show how little people understand audiology. There are many specialty areas in audiology hearing healthcare services. Some audiologists work at clinics prescribing hearing aids. Like some optometrists work at clinics prescribing eyeglasses. If an audiologist evaluates your hearing and finds hearing loss, it would be unethical for them not to recommend hearing aids. Unaided hearing loss causes dementia, loneliness, anxiety, depression, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and early death. Aiding only 1 ear causes auditory deprivation: the unaided ear loses its ability to understand speech. This never recovers fully even if the person gets a hearing aid for that ear later. If both ears are aidable, paired hearing with 2 hearing aids is best. That’s not a sales ploy; that’s science. Humans with 2 ears for a reason: the best sound quality and communication possible.

Some audiologists prescribe hearing aids for tinnitus-hyperacusis therapy. Whether for hearing loss or hyper ears, it’s impossible to prescribe or fit hearing aids without knowing about a person’s lifestyle and where they’re having problems. It’s the only way to customize counselling based on each individual person’s hearing and communication concerns, and make sure hearing aid features and assistive listening devices are chosen that will be most helpful in the person’s daily life. It’s the only way to set up and program all the hearing aid features properly when fitting the hearing aids including HIT Box electroacoustic testing, Real Ear Measures, gain set to NAL-NAL2 or DSL evidence-based targets, OSPL90 set below Loudness Discomfort Levels, compression ratios, speech mapping, beamforming, wireless communication with external devices, loaded apps, multiple channels programmed as needed e.g. custom sound therapy, music appreciation, restaurant/coffee shop background noise environments, or hobby and lifestyle specific. There are many hearing, hyper ears and communication management possibilities. But there’s no way to know what to talk about for the counselling, hearing aid prescription and fitting, or guidance and follow-up unless the audiologist communicates and gets to know the person with hearing loss.

Other audiologists who don’t fit hearing aids also work to improve quality of life for people with hearing loss. Occupational and military audiologists working to prevent noise-induced hearing loss. Hospital diagnostic audiologists working in newborn infant hearing screening programs or audiovestibular clinics help people with imbalance or dizziness. There are pediatric or geriatric specialists, and cochlear implant program audiologists. Educational audiologists work towards accessible education for children with hearing loss or auditory perceptual problems. There are healthcare system audiologists. All typically on a salary. No sales. No commissions.

No matter where audiologists work, they spend their days testing and talking with people who have hearing loss, hearing the stories, comforting the tears, seeing the serious impact hearing loss or hyper ears has on people’s daily lives. Most audiologists have empathy. Some burn out. After all, sales isn’t even taught in audiology programs. Hearing health, communication management, hearing aid management, and tinnitus or decreased sound tolerance management are the focus. It’s very sad that hearing healthcare provided by audiologists is hugely undervalued by society compared to vision healthcare by optometrists. 

Then there’s the personal side. Many audiologists have hyper ears with tinnitus or decreased sound tolerance. Many audiologists have hearing loss and use hearing aids themselves. Who better to understand other people with hearing loss or hyper ears? Even if they don’t have hearing issues, good luck finding an audiologist who doesn’t know somebody with hearing loss or hyper ears.

My personal experience started early. My Dad had very severe permanent mixed hearing loss from childhood ear infections. When he was little, there were no antibiotics or pressure equalization tube insertions. He ended up having major surgeries on both sides when the infections spread to the mastoid bones of his skull. I saw him pretending he heard when he missed what was said. The denial. The missed and misunderstood conversations and difficult communication in noisy places. My grandparents had age-related hearing loss. I saw their hearing slip away over the years. The communication breakdowns. Until they eventually got hearing aids. I had friends at school with hearing aids. One girl was Deaf. She taught me in the 1980s that Deaf people can do anything from dance performances, playing field hockey, or taking karate lessons: things we did together since other people socially isolated her out of ignorance. #DeafTalent

Like many audiologists, I have never sold a hearing aid. Like many audiologists, I like to think I have empathy for people with hearing loss or hyper ears. I’ve burned out at least once. I definitely know what it’s like to struggle and cope with hyper ears myself. I have mild hearing loss, tinnitus, and decreased sound tolerance. Combined with my past experiences, I think I do understand at least partly what it’s like to live with hearing loss in our modern society. But I’m certainly not a salesperson. And I’m pretty sure I’m not from Mars.

Photo Credit Matt Collamer at Unsplash

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