Tongue twisting terms you should know for your hearing health


Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing

Each year on the second Sunday in November, people all over the world roll out their best “pack of pickled peppers” and “toy truck, toy truck” enunciations in celebration of International Tongue Twister Day. Experts say practicing tongue twisters can improve brain connectivity, articulation and pronunciation. Speech therapists use them, so do actors and politicians — even foreign students learning English benefit from practicing tongue twisters.

blackboard with jumbled syllables of speech
We’ll have you pronouncing these hearing

health terms like the pros!

While the words in most tongue twisters have been precisely positioned to perplex you, some medical terms are just naturally difficult to say. So, if you’re tired of reciting the same old tongue twisters, here’s a list of ten important hearing health terms you can practice pronouncing this year. Even if they don’t roll off your tongue easily, you’ll want to become familiar with what they are and why they’re important.

Hearing healthcare professional terminology

Just as you like to be called by your proper name, hearing healthcare professionals like to be called by their correct titles. Some of them are easy to pronounce, like hearing instrument specialist (HIS), but there are some which are a little more difficult to say.   

Audiologist [aw-dee-oluh-jist]

Audiologists are professionals who are specially trained to evaluate, diagnose and treat children and adults with hearing loss. These individuals have earned a minimum of a master’s degree in hearing loss. Many have obtained a doctoral degree in audiology (Au.D.) and are referred to as “doctor.”

Otolaryngologist [oh-toh-lar-ing-goluh-jist]

Physicians who have trained in the medical and surgical management and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose and throat are known as otolaryngologists or ENTs. These medical professionals complete specialized coursework during the last two years of medical school and spend three to five years in an ENT residency program.

Fun facts: According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, otolaryngology is the oldest medical specialty in the United States.

And speaking of old: “She sells seashells by the seashore” is a tongue twister that originated in 1811 with a British woman named Mary Anning who actually sold seashells to tourists. Her love of digging for shells and fossils in the Lyme Regis cliffs near her home in Great Britain led her to discover the fossils of several marine dinosaurs from the Jurassic period. Scientists credit her for founding modern paleontology.

Hearing loss terminology

Thanks to industry advancements in the past ten years, today’s hearing loss diagnoses are often more difficult to pronounce than they are to treat. Today’s hearing aids are smaller and more discreet, and can wirelessly connect to your smartphone and other personal electronic devices. Speech recognition technology and background noise reduction make it easier to be part of the conversation, even in some of the noisiest environments. The key to success is finding a qualified hearing health professional and learning what you can about your condition and treatment. The following five terms are common words you may hear from staff at your hearing clinic or read in educational literature they provide.  

Sensorineural [sen-suh-ree-noo ruh l]

When the tiny sensory hair cells in your inner ear become damaged or die, it affects your brain’s ability to process sound. This most common type of hearing loss is known as sensorineural hearing loss and although it’s permanent, it’s largely preventable by limiting your noise exposure. Depending upon the severity, it can be treated very successfully with hearing aids.

Tinnitus [tin-nahytuh s] or [tin-i-tuh s]

Both pronunciations of this term are correct, so don’t be surprised if you hear it spoken both ways. This condition is often referred to as “ringing in the ears,” and is most often caused by exposure to excessive noise. Tinnitus is a major concern for our veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Although there is no cure, the condition can be successfully treated in many cases with hearing aids and forms of sound therapy.

Presbycusis [prez-by-coo-sis]

Hearing healthcare professionals use this term to identify age-related hearing loss. Presbycusis refers to sensorineural hearing loss which usually occurs in both ears to individuals over the age of 65. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), one in three people in the United States between the ages of 65 and 74 have some hearing loss. That percentage rises to 50 percent for those over the age of 75.

Otitis Media [o-tie-tis mee-dee-uh]

This is just your medical doctor’s fancy way of saying you have an ear infection. Did you know that five out of six children will experience at least one ear infection by the time they are three years old? The condition is most common in children because of the size and position of their Eustachian [yoo-stay-shen] tubes. Adults can get ear infections, too, often when bacteria from a bad cold or sore throat spreads to the inner ear.

Ototoxicity [o-tuh-tok-sis-i-tee]

If your hearing healthcare professional says the medication you’ve been taking is ototoxic, she means it’s harmful to your hearing. Ototoxicity is the characteristic of being toxic to the ear, specifically to the cochlea, auditory nerve and/or the vestibular system. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) says there are more than 200 known ototoxic medications, which include medications used to treat serious infections, cancer and heart disease.

Hearing evaluation terminology

There’s nothing difficult about having your hearing evaluated — but some of the terminology may make you stumble over a syllable or two if you’re not familiar with it. Be ready for your next appointment and impress your hearing healthcare professional by pronouncing the following terms flawlessly.

Otoscope [ohtuh-skohp]

Your hearing healthcare professional uses this instrument to look at your external ear canal and eardrum. The magnifier and small light allow for a painless examination.

Tympanometry [tim-panohm-i-tree]

This examination uses air pressure to look at the way your inner ear is functioning. The test measures the mobility of the tympanic membrane (eardrum) and can help diagnose disorders that can lead to hearing loss.

Audiogram [aw-dee-uh-gram]

Once your hearing evaluation is complete, the results are plotted on a chart known as an audiogram. This chart shows the softest sounds you can hear at different frequencies and pitches. Your hearing healthcare professional will explain the results and then discuss treatment options, if necessary.


All kidding aside, becoming educated about hearing loss and the role it plays in your overall health is one of the most important lessons you can learn. Take the first step by making an appointment for a hearing evaluation with a qualified professional. If you don’t know where to start, visit Healthy Hearing’s online directory to find a hearing center in your community.

Phonetic spellings from


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