Individuals looking for hearing loss treatment face a number of challenges, including medical terms that may be unfamiliar and categories of health care professionals that may seem confusing. For instance, what is the difference between an audiologist and a hearing instrument specialist?
Ear Doctors, Audiologists, Hearing Aid Specialists — What’s the Difference?
The types of hearing care professionals you might encounter in seeking help with your hearing loss differ in both their education and their skills.
Audiologists and Doctors of Audiology
An audiologist is a licensed hearing health care professional who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss and balance disorders in adults and children. You can think of an audiologist primarily as a “hearing doctor.” Most audiologists have completed a doctor of audiology (Au.D.) degree, though there are other doctoral degrees within the field (Ph.D., Sc.D., and others). Audiologists may offer the following services:
- Complete hearing exams
- Fitting, adjustment, and maintenance of hearing aids
- Treatment for balance disorders and tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Hearing and speech rehabilitation programs
- Cochlear implants
Audiologists possess comprehensive knowledge of the human auditory and vestibular systems, and they have extensive training in sound reproduction, which is critical to the accurate fitting and adjustment of hearing aids.
Hearing Instrument Specialists
Hearing instrument specialists (or, in some states, licensed hearing aid dispensers) are health care professionals who specialize in recommending and fitting appropriate hearing aid technology. Hearing instrument specialists are typically up to date on the latest technology available in the field — including assistive listening devices (amplified telephones, alarm systems, etc.) — and are experienced in performing and evaluating basic hearing tests.
Hearing instrument specialists must be either board-certified or licensed by the state. Most states also require an apprenticeship or a specified period of practical experience before they are licensed.
Otolaryngologists are physicians (M.D.s or doctors of medicine) who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases of the ears, nose, mouth, and throat. As opposed to an audiologist, who is more like a “hearing doctor,” you can think of an otolaryngologist as an “ear doctor.” Trained in both medicine and surgery, otolaryngologists typically treat the types of profound hearing loss that require pharmaceutical or surgical treatment, like a cochlear implant. These types of hearing loss include loss caused by trauma, infection, or benign tumors in the ear.
After completing a medical course of treatment, otolaryngologists often refer patients to an audiologist for the prescription and fitting of digital hearing aids or counseling to help redevelop communication and language recognition skills.
No matter what type of specialist you decide to see for your hearing needs, the most important factor is the overall experience they provide, which should include a comprehensive approach to diagnosing, treating, and reevaluating your hearing. Partnering with a professional who listens to your needs is critical to the success of your treatment plan.