My Job Is Figuring Out What’s Causing Dizziness and Vertigo

Shannon McCormick says hearing tests and hearing aids fittings are just part of her duties as a doctor of audiology.
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Photo by: Ryan Siphers

Name: Shannon McCormick
Age: 34
Job: Doctor of Audiology

BEGINNINGS: “I did not originally plan on pursuing audiology. When I was an undergrad I got in an accident and I had to be in physical therapy for a year and a half. My physical therapist did vestibular rehab (inner ear) with me, and I thought it was cool and interesting.”

AUDIOLOGY: “We do hearing tests, and that is what people mostly associate us with. We also dispense hearing aids and conduct vestibular assessments, which evaluates the function of the bal-ance system. I specialize in vestibular testing.”

VESTIBULAR TESTING: “Vestibular testing is a series of tests which are done when patients are experiencing vertigo, dizziness, imbalance, ringing of the ears or ear fullness. We try to determine the root cause. Is it an ear issue? Is it a brain issue? Is it something visually going on? Once we know what is causing the patient’s symptoms, we can treat it.”

One form of vestibular testing called VNG tests inner ear and central motor functions, including looking for involuntary eye movements known as nystagmus. “Patients benefit from VNG testing because their health care provider can develop a plan that tries to avoid dizziness medication. Many patients rely on a drug called Meclizine.

“Meclizine is often prescribed for dizziness and vertigo, but it is not designed to be a maintenance drug. It works by suppressing the vestibular system, so when patients come off it, they feel dizzy. It is a great medication during an acute vestibulopathy when vertigo is at its worst. Patients who are on it for a long time never compensate for their vestibular weakness (the reason you do physical therapy), so when they stop taking it the vertigo returns.”

OTHER TESTING: “Another test we do is called ECOG, short for electrocochleography. This looks at pressure levels inside the inner ear. When pressure is high, it can cause imbalance, vertigo, ear ringing or ear fullness. I am the only provider who does VNG testing on Maui, and I also test Big Island residents. I see patients from every island due to the high specialization of these vestibular tests.”

MISCONCEPTIONS: “Many think you have to be old to take a hearing test, but we actually test newborns’ hearing. When babies are born, they test their hearing with a screening before they leave the hospital. If the child is diagnosed and given properly fitted hearing aids before their first birthday, they will proceed to develop normal hearing and speech like their peers. That’s why it’s really important so they’ll still develop normal speech.”

WHAT IT TAKES: “Four years of a graduate school program following a four-year undergraduate degree. A common undergrad major is communication and science disorders.”

TIPS FOR SUCCESS: “Don’t be afraid to try new things. Present yourself well and be willing to work hard. Audiology is a small community and people will remember you. Networking and continuing to improve through continuing education, humanitarian work or volunteering is very valuable. Science and technology are always changing – especially with hearing aids, they are constantly changing – so you must be very adaptable to be successful.”



Categories: Careers