Hearing & speech definitions

At Hearing & Speech Nova Scotia, it’s important to us that each person gets easy-to-understand information about the challenges they’re facing. Below is a glossary of words on this website and hearing and speech terms that could be confusing.


Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS): Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control. ALS often begins with muscle twitching and weakness in a limb, or slurred speech. ALS affects control of the muscles needed to move, speak, eat and breathe.

Arthritis: Inflammation of a joint.

Assessment: Evaluation. Includes formal and informal procedures. 

Audiology: The study of hearing and balance problems. 

Audiologist: A health care professional concerned with the diagnosis, assessment, rehabilitation, and prevention of hearing loss and balance disorders.

Audiometer: An electronic instrument designed to measure the sensitivity of hearing. 

Augmentative and Alternative Communication: An approach designed to support, enhance, or supplement the communication of individuals who are not independent verbal communicators in all situations.

Autism: Refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech and non-verbal communication.

Bilingual: The ability to speak two or more languages fluently.

Bilirubin: Is formed when red blood cells breakdown in the body. The liver helps to filter bilirubin out of the body. High levels of bilirubin can lead to jaundice which is a yellowing of the skin and eyes. Too much bilirubin in the blood can be harmful to the body and brain as well as the inner ear.

Calibration: The process of adjusting the values of the readings given by an instrument (by known standards).

Cervical Vemp (cVEMP): Very loud sounds not only stimulate the cochlea but another part of the inner ear involved in balance. This sound can produce electrical activity in several muscles in the neck and eyes. This activity can easily be recorded with sticky electrodes on the neck or near the eyes. The response is referred to as a vestibular evoked myogenic potential (VEMP). A VEMP recorded from the neck is called a cervical VEMP.

Chemotherapy: A drug treatment that uses powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cells (typically cancer cells) in your body.

Cleft lip and palate: Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that occur when a baby's lip or mouth do not form properly during pregnancy.

Clumsiness: Poor coordination or movement.

Cochlear implant: A small electronic device that is surgical implanted and helps to improve hearing in children and adults with severe to profound hearing impairments.

Communication: The act of conveying meanings with the use of mutually understood signs, symbols or sounds.

Communication boards: communication board is a board with symbols or pictures that is used to facilitate communication. It can be used by pointing and gesturing or gazing at the various symbols and pictures.

Dietitian: A person who specializes in nutrition.

Dizziness: Used to describe a range of sensations like feeling faint, woozy or unsteady.

Ear infection: An infection that affects the ear.

Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor: A doctor that treats disorders of the ear, nose and throat.

Fatigue: Weariness or exhaustion from labour, exertion, or stress.

Fiberoptic Endoscopic Examination of Swallowing (FEES): fiberoptic endoscopic evaluation of swallowing (FEES) test is a procedure used to assess how well you swallow. A speech-language pathologist (SLP) or doctor passes a thin, flexible instrument through your nose. Then the SLP views parts of your throat as you swallow.

Francophone: French speaking.

Gesture: Movement of any part of the body to express an idea, emotion or function

Hearing loss: Any degree of impairment in the ability to understand sound.

Hearing protection: A device used to protect the ears from loud sounds. Devices can be placed over the ears or in the ears. Hearing protection can be bought from a store or can be custom made.

Hormones: Hormones are your body's chemical messengers. They are secreted directly into the blood, and they are carried to different parts of your body to exert their functions. There are many types of hormones that act on different aspects of bodily functions and processes.

Huntington’s disease: Huntington disease is a progressive brain disorder that causes uncontrolled movements, emotional problems, and loss of thinking ability and difficulty speaking.

Impaired: Something that has been weakened or damaged.

Meningitis: Meningitis is an inflammation in the covering of the brain. The meninges are the three membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis can occur when fluid surrounding the meninges becomes infected

Milestones: An action or event marking a significant change or stage in development

Modified Barium Swallow (MBS): A procedure to determine whether food or liquid is entering a person's lungs.

Multiple Sclerosis (MS): A chronic illness that can affect your brain and spinal cord. It can cause problems with vision, balance and hearing, muscle control, and other basic body functions. The effects are often different for everyone who has the disease.

Nasal: Pertaining to the nose.

Nasal tone: A type of speaking voice characterized by speech with a "nasal" quality. It can also occur naturally because of genetic variation or can be caused by other factors.

Noise level assessment: A detailed measurement and monitoring of levels of sound (air pressure waves) in a particular area. The assessment will determine the frequency (pitch) and amplitude (loudness) of the sound. These type of assessments are often completed to determine if hearing protection or other modifications in the area are required to keep people safe.

Nutrition: Energy (nourishment) that is obtained from food consumed.

Ocular Vemp (oVEMP): Very loud sounds not only stimulate the cochlea but another part of the inner ear involved in balance. This sound can produce electrical activity in several muscles in the neck and eyes. This activity can easily be recorded with sticky electrodes on the neck or near the eyes. The response is referred to as a vestibular evoked myogenic potential (VEMP). A VEMP recorded from near the eye is called an ocular VEMP.

Ototoxic: Drugs that are poisonous to the ear.

Paralysis: The loss of muscle control in part of your body. It happens when something goes wrong with the way messages pass between your brain and muscles. Paralysis can be complete or partial. It can occur on one or both sides of your body. It can also occur in just one area of the body, or it can be widespread.

Parkinson’s disease: A disorder of the brain that leads to shakingstiffness, and difficulty with walking, balance, and coordination. The symptoms usually begin slowly and get worse over time. As the disease worsens, people may have difficulty walking and talking.

Pediatric: Infants, children, and adolescents.

Pneumonia: An infection in one or both lungs that can be caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The infection makes it difficult to breathe.

Posturography: A test of balance used to measure postural control in upright stance in either static or dynamic (changing) conditions.

Radiation: High energy particles or waves. Radiation is a type of cancer treatment where high doses of radiation are delivered to cancerous tumors in the body.

Recurrent: Something that occurs frequently or often.

Sign language: A language that uses a systems of manual, facial and other body movements to communicate.

Speech Language Pathologists: Health care professionals who work with both children and adults to prevent, assess, diagnose and manage (through treatment and counselling) speech, language, voice, and swallowing disorders

Swallowing: To allow something (food or drink) to pass down the throat.

Syndrome: A condition characterized by a set of associated signs and symptoms.

Tai Chi: An exercise that involves a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner and accompanied by deep breathing.

Tinnitus: Hearing ringing, buzzing or other sounds in your ears or head. Tinnitus can be caused by wax, certain medications, trauma, infection, loud noises and rarely tumors.

TORCH Syndrome: A baby contracts a TORCH infection in the uterus when the mother catches the disease and carries it through her bloodstream to the baby. The developing baby is at risk for the infection because its immune system is not yet strong enough to fight off infection. Since the developing baby cannot completely get rid of an infection, the child's organs and brain may not develop correctly.

Unsteadiness: A feeling of almost falling, or the result of bumping into things.

Vertigo: A symptom where a person has the feeling of moving or surrounding objects moving when they are not. It may feel like a spinning or swaying motion. It can be associated with nausea, vomiting, sweating, or difficulties walking. It is usually worse when the head is moved.

Video Head Impulse (vHIT): Is a test used to diagnose reduced or poor vestibular (balance) function in one ear versus the other ear. The audiologist moves the head back and forth and special goggles monitor the eye movements.

Videonystagmography (VNG): Is a group of tests used to study your balance system. A camera attached to a pair of goggles records your eye movement under different situations - as a series of lights move on the wall in front of you and after having water (warm and cool) introduced into your ear canals. This test assists the doctor in determining the cause of dizziness or vertigo and in monitoring vestibular function over time. Also known as Electronystagmography (ENG).

Vocal fold: In humans, vocal cords (also known as vocal folds) are folds of tissue in the throat that are important in creating sounds when we speak.

Vocal fold injury: Any injury to the vocal cords which may include excessive screaming, smoking, alcohol, disease, trauma or paralysis.

Voice: The sound produced in a person's throat and uttered through the mouth, as speech or singing.

Voice box: Also called the larynx, is the portion of the respiratory (breathing) tract containing the vocal cords which produce sound.

X-ray: An image taken of internal body structures (bones and soft tissue) to help see an injury or disease.