When you are facing hearing problems, one of the first things you have to do is figure out what type of “hearing doctor” you need to see. There are three main types of hearing healthcare professionals as follows:
- Audiologists. An audiologist is a trained hearing specialist who holds either a master’s degree or doctor of audiology degree. An audiologist is a licensed healthcare professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating hearing loss, balance disorder, and tinnitus disorders. They are also able to treat other hearing conditions like earwax removal and provide fitting of hearing aids.
- Otolaryngologists or ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) Specialists. As you can tell by the name, an ENT is a medical doctor specializing in diseases and disorders in the ears, nose, and throat. As it pertains to hearing, ENTs treat conditions that affect the ears, balance system, and base of the skull. An ENT can treat ear infections, remove earwax, and perform surgeries on their patients. An ENT surgeon can also perform cochlear implant surgery when applicable.
- Hearing Instrument Specialists. Again, as the name implies, hearing instrument specialists can administer the necessary tests to determine the type and severity of hearing loss and can help advise and fit their patients with the best hearing aids. Hearing instrument specialists are board-certified and state-licensed and are very knowledgeable about the different types and levels of hearing aid technology.
Audiology & Branch of Science
The branch of science that deals specifically with hearing is called “audiology.” In the strictest sense of the word, an audiologist is a “hearing doctor.” However, not every audiologist is a hearing doctor. An audiologist is a trained hearing specialist, but that can come in the form of a master’s degree or a doctorate in audiology. A licensed audiologist is able to diagnose and evaluate hearing loss and other related conditions including but not limited to balance, hearing aids, tinnitus disorders, and earwax buildup.
The most common issues that audiologists face deal with hearing loss. When a person is experiencing hearing loss of any kind, a local audiologist is the best resource because they can work with you medically all the way through the fitting and upkeep of a hearing aid when necessary. Audiologists provide optimal continuity of care.
Audiologists are often known as “specialists” within a larger medical practice, but more and more hearing clinics are actually run by audiologists because of their breadth of knowledge and expertise. Some audiologists may specialize in pediatrics or balance issues while others specialize in hearing aids and cochlear implants. When you experience hearing loss, an ENT or general practitioner can help you with the medical aspects of the problem, but then generally turn you over to a hearing instrument specialist. The great thing about an audiologist is that they generally diagnose the problem, help you find the right hearing aid when it is needed, and then provide support as you grow accustomed to the new advice and need periodic fittings and adjustments.
ENT Doctor’s Role
An ENT will focus solely on the medical issues that cause hearing loss or clogged ears. They will help to clear the medical problem, but they do not necessarily provide help with fittings and adjustments of hearing aids later. If you have earwax buildup, sinus problems that often lead to ear infections, ear pain or discharge, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), or problems that affect the ears and other connected organs, then an ENT is the right choice for you. ENTs also perform surgeries such as cochlear implants, placement of tubes in your ears, and sinus surgeries that can help clear up issues in the ear, nose, and throat. If counseling and/or hearing aids are needed, an ENT will most likely refer the patient to either an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist.
Hearing Doctor – More Than One Option
As you can see, there are multiple options when it comes to choosing a hearing doctor both in terms of their expertise and the scope of their practice. The best thing for a patient to do is to find someone that they trust and rely on. Be sure the type of doctor you find is best suited for the type of hearing problems you are experiencing. For instance, if you produce too much earwax and need to have your ears cleaned periodically, an ENT is great and can help you if you need tubes or if you have other sinus issues. On the other hand, if you need a long-term hearing solution like a hearing aid or amplification device, an audiologist is your best choice because they can give you continued care.
Ear Doctors, Audiologists, Hearing Aid Specialists — What’s the Difference?
After reading the above article, you probably have a good idea about the differences between the three types of hearing specialists. In this section, however, we will highlight what each one does in comparison to the other two so that you can make the right decision on which expert to approach first.
- Audiologists and Doctors of Audiology
Audiologists are the experts to go to when you have hearing loss or hearing problems and you need both a long-term and short-term solution. Audiologists are professionals with a master or doctorate degree that can evaluate hearing loss and related conditions. They can treat you for almost any type of hearing loss that you experience and they can also advise you on hearing aids, fit devices to your ears, and offer you support as your hearing changes and your hearing aids need to be adjusted. Reasons to see an audiologist include:
- You have noticed changes in your hearing or the hearing of a loved one.
- You are experiencing ringing in your ears (tinnitus).
- You have earwax buildup or your ears are clogged for other reasons.
- You are concerned about your child’s hearing.
- You want to purchase hearing aids.
- You need maintenance or adjustments to your hearing aids.
- You need aftercare and programming for your cochlear implant.
- Hearing Instrument Specialists
A hearing instrument specialist is more limited in their scope than the other two. Most audiologists are also hearing instrument specialists, at least to a degree. Therefore you will probably only see a hearing instrument specialist if you went to an ENT first or are skipping the step of seeing an audiologist prior to receiving a hearing aid. We would greatly advise you against skipping this important step, but a hearing instrument specialist is usually easier to see and less expensive. Most hearing instrument specialists will advise you on a hearing aid and then give you support after the purchase. Reasons to see a hearing instrument specialist include:
- You want to purchase hearing aids
- To repair damaged hearing aids
- You need a hearing test
ENTs offer the broadest range of services for things that affect your ears and other connected organs. ENTs are medical doctors with the associated training and expertise including surgical procedures. If your ear pain or hearing loss is connected to other issues, like allergies or sinuses, then you will want to see an ENT. An ENT will often refer patients to an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist once they have diagnosed and helped with the medical issues behind the hearing loss. Reasons to see an ENT include:
- Ear pain, infection, or discharge
- Balance problems
- Changes in your hearing
- Clogged ears
- Surgery on structures on the head or neck including tubes in your ears or cochlear implants
- Other concerns with your ears, nose, or throat