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Audiology: How your ears relate to your health

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska –Staff Sgt. Kim Munoz, 3rd Medical Group Otolaryngology technician adjusts a set of eye movement sensitive lenses on Airman 1st Class Matthew Kenneson, 3rd Medical Group surgical service technician. The lenses, along with a chair designed to spin, sit in a room made to test a patient’s equilibrium and balance. (Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

Staff Sgt. Kim Munoz, 3rd Medical Group Otolaryngology technician adjusts a set of eye movement sensitive lenses on Airman 1st Class Matthew Kenneson, 3rd Medical Group surgical service technician at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, June 3, 2010. The lenses, along with a chair designed to spin, sit in a room made to test a patient’s equilibrium and balance. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Airman 1st Class Matthew Kenneson, 3rd Medical Group surgical service technician, tests a Balance Manager, a machine that is used to give Postureography tests, which tests assess a patient’s equilibrium and ability to balance. (Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

Airman 1st Class Matthew Kenneson, 3rd Medical Group surgical service technician, tests a Balance Manager, a machine that is used to give Postureography tests, which tests assess a patient’s equilibrium and ability to balance, at Elemendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, June 3, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Airman 1st Class Matthew Kenneson, 3rd Medical Group surgical service technician, stands on the balance plate on a Balance Manager, a machine used to give Postureography tests, which tests assess a patient’s equilibrium and ability to balance. (Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

Airman 1st Class Matthew Kenneson, 3rd Medical Group surgical service technician, stands on the balance plate on a Balance Manager, a machine used to give Postureography tests, which tests assess a patient’s equilibrium and ability to balance, at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, June 3, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Airman 1st Class Matthew Kenneson, 3rd Medical Group surgical service technician, reviews his results from a Balance Manager, a machine that is used to give Postureography tests, which tests assess a patient’s equilibrium and ability to balance. (Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

Airman 1st Class Matthew Kenneson, 3rd Medical Group surgical service technician, reviews his results from a Balance Manager, a machine that is used to give Postureography tests, which tests assess a patient’s equilibrium and ability to balance, at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, June 3, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska –Staff Sgt. Kim Munoz, 3rd Medical Group Otolaryngology technician and Airman 1st Class Matthew Kenneson, 3rd Medical Group surgical service technician, test a Balance Manager, a machine that is used to give Postureography tests, which test assess a patient’s equilibrium and ability to balance. (Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

Staff Sgt. Kim Munoz, 3rd Medical Group Otolaryngology technician and Airman 1st Class Matthew Kenneson, 3rd Medical Group surgical service technician, test a Balance Manager, a machine that is used to give Postureography tests, which test assess a patient’s equilibrium and ability to balance, at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, June 3, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Airman 1st Class Matthew Kenneson, 3rd Medical Group surgical service technician, falls while testing a Balance Manager, a machine used to give Postureography tests, which assess a patient’s equilibrium and ability to balance. (Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

Airman 1st Class Matthew Kenneson, 3rd Medical Group surgical service technician, falls while testing a Balance Manager, a machine used to give Postureography tests, which assess a patient’s equilibrium and ability to balance, at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, June 3, 2010. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jack Sanders)

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- The study of sound is Audiology.

A doctor specializing in Audiology is an audiologist they perform hearing tests, tests of balance, provide education about hearing and ear disorders, and fit hearing aids. Along with audiologist there are otolaryngologists, or medical doctors who specialize in treating disorders of the ear, nose and throat. Oto for ears, larynx for throat, and rino for nose.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook hearing disorders can result from a variety of causes including trauma at birth, viral infections, genetic disorders, exposure to loud noise, certain medications, or aging. Treatment may include examining and cleaning the ear canal, fitting and dispensing hearing aids, and fitting and programming cochlear implants. Audiologic treatment also includes counseling on adjusting to hearing loss, training on the use of hearing instruments, and teaching communication strategies for use in a variety of environments. For example, they may provide instruction in listening strategies. Audiologists also may recommend, fit, and dispense personal or large-area amplification systems and alerting devices.

Audiology traces its roots back to WWII when significant numbers of returning veterans suffered from hearing loss that was attributed to war.

Today the mission of military audiology is focused on prevention and rehabilitation of hearing loss. It is accomplished through primarily through education and then dispensing hearing aids when hearing loss occurs

Elmendorf Audiology supports the first military traumatic brain injury clinic in the Air Force.

Traumatic brain injury or TBI, is a condition affecting many military members returning from deployments.

"If someone has TBI, some symptoms will be loss of hearing and dizziness and we test for that," said Staff Sgt. Kim Munoz 3rd Medical Group otolaryngologist.
TBI occurs when an external force traumatically injures the brain.

"Roughly 98 percent of individuals with TBI complain of some balance related difficulties," said Capt. Tamarah Murphy, 3rd MDG. "Audiology has specialized equipment to assess balance. Posturography and rotary chair are two fairly new pieces of equipment that were brought in with military TBI patients in mind. However, balance testing is not limited to these individuals."

TBI is just one small example of the issues the otolaryngologist here deals with. The group also fits retirees and injured military members with hearing aids.

"When you help someone with their hearing, that's in pain or can't sleep because of their ears, when you give them a hearing aid that fixes the problem you can see the relief come to their face and that's something you can't get with other forms of medicine," said Sergeant Munoz. "When they leave the hospital their ailment is instantly fixed and they don't have to wait a couple of weeks or months for relief."

The Audiology team uses specialized equipment to perform different hearing-related tests.

"We have a postureography test, which will test your balance," said Sergeant Munoz.

During the postureography test the patient is strapped into a harness and stands on a metal plate. Both the plate and a brightly colored background move to evaluate balance

The team also has a machine, much like an astronauts' G-force simulation chair, that spin's while the patient is fitted with a pair of glasses that chart their eye movement.

"It's such a good feeling when you know you've helped better someone's livelihood," said Sergeant Munoz. "If you can't hear, the little things that can be done in Audiology can really affect your life."