What Do Audiologists Do?

What Is An Audiologist? 

An audiologist is a postgraduate trained healthcare professional who evaluates, diagnoses, treats and manages hearing, hearing loss, auditory pathway health and balance disorders at all ages (birth to end of life). Depending on when the audiologist went to school, they have at minimum a Masters Degree in Audiology, but most have their Doctorate, which can be either a PhD or AuD. The study of audiology is vast and complex, and some audiologists specialize and obtain certificates of education in different areas such as pediatrics, balance/vestibular, auditory processing, tinnitus, research, electrophysiology, and/or hearing aids. Many audiologists show their specialties in the credentials they hold, such as American Board of Audiology “ABA”, “Academic Fellow” from the American Academy of Audiology and/or Clinical Competence Certificate in Audiology, or “CCC-A” from the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association. Each audiologist needs to have a state license to practice in their state, and some hold licensure in multiple states, which is important to note when using an audiologist online for telehealth. The audiologist must have licensure in the state the patient is physically in.

What Is The Branch Of Audiology? 

Audiologists can specialize in a variety of areas. Here are brief overviews of some of the more popular specialties, and a few that many are unaware of:

Pediatric Audiologist, specializing in care of those under the age of 18

Dispensing Audiologist, specializing in fitting, care and use of hearing aids

Clinical Audiologist, specializing in a wide variety of diagnostic testing which can include ABR (auditory brainstem response testing) tinnitus (specialized tinnitus testing and management) OAE (otoacoustic evoked potentials) tympanometry (middle ear testing)

Vestibular Audiologist, specializing in balance, which includes testing, interpreting others tests (if done by a technician) and rehabilitation of the vestibular system

Hearing Conservation Audiologist, specializing in protection of the hearing system for employers, employees, recreational exposure to loud noise (hunting, music, target practice, etc) and specialized hearing protection. Hearing protection covers a spectrum from one-size-fits-most to customized hearing protection.

Hospital Audiologist, specializing in clinics within the hospital and can include intraoperative monitoring of the hearing system during surgery.

Academic Requirements of Audiologists 

Audiology requires a post baccalaureate doctorate degree for all incoming professionals. Up until the 1990s and early 2000s, most audiologists were only required to obtain a master’s degree. Now, there are approximately 70 school programs in which an AuD can be obtained across the United States.  The majority of these are in person, with only a few that offer online education for those who already have their master’s degree and want to take a fast-track program to obtain their doctorate.

What Does An Audiologist Do? 

An audiologist is a hearing professional who prevents, identifies, assesses and manages disorders of hearing and balance. This may include other neural systems and other medical disciplines to make sure management is consistent across the board for the patient. For example, if a person is diagnosed with diabetes by their primary care provider, then they should consult with an optometrist, diabetic educator, endocrinologist, podiatrist and audiologist, to make sure they have everything checked annually that may be affected by diabetes.  These providers, in turn, should report back to the patient’s primary care provider.

Ear Doctors, Audiologists, Hearing Aid Specialists — What’s the Difference?

An audiologist has at minimum a Master’s degree in Audiology, but most have their Clinical Doctorate degree in Audiology (AuD) as it is now required for all audiologists entering into today’s workforce. An audiologist’s scope of practice includes all aspects of hearing healthcare, from diagnostics to the treatment and rehabilitation for hearing and balance. There are also niche specialties that some audiologists highlight, such as cerumen removal, tinnitus treatment, Auditory Processing diagnosis, APD treatment, balance screening and testing, specialized evoked potential testing and interpretation, surgical inoperative monitoring, cognitive screening, and hearing aid/communication strategies/fittings.

Hearing Instrument Specialists 

A hearing aid specialist (HIS) needs a high school diploma (and in some states, a 2 year associate’s degree) and passing the licensing test for the state after a minimum of 1 year mentorship from a licensed individual (which can be another HIS or AuD). HIS scope of practice is centered around the hearing aid only. HIS cannot bill insurance for a hearing exam, and therefore many do not charge at all for the puretone assessment, or “beep-beep” test.


An ENT, or Otolaryngologist, is a medical physician (MD or DO) who has specialized in the medical diagnosis, treatment and surgery of areas surrounding the ear, nose and throat. Many ENT offices house their own audiologist and/or hearing instrument specialist depending on what the ENT office wants to specialize in. ENTs are trained in both medical and surgical management of diseases below the brain and above the lungs (except the eyes).  Many of the cases they manage involve very complex problems, such as tumors or sinus disease. ENTs must attend a year after medical school to learn their specialty, including neurosurgery, critical care, anesthesia and general surgery. There are areas of specialty the ENT may want to continue with, such as laryngology (voice and swallowing) pediatrics or facial plastic/reconstructive surgery.

Audiologist FAQ Section

Do audiologists remove ear wax? 

Audiologists do remove earwax in most states. Each state has a scope of practice section in their state statutes. Most states use vague language, but a few specifically include or deny cerumen removal in their rules or statutes. For many audiologists, this is an area of expertise they enjoy, as it is very satisfying to help correct a hearing loss immediately.

What do you call a hearing doctor? 

The definition of “doctor” is a person who holds a doctorate degree from an academic institution. Those who have their Medical Doctorate (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) are referred to as “physicians.” An audiologist may hold a PhD or AuD, and are both referred to as “doctor,” but they are not physicians. It is a matter of ethical guidance for those who do not hold a physician license or degree to state what type of specialty they have. A hearing instrument specialist (HIS) is not a “hearing doctor,” and should always correct anyone who uses this title with them.

Who do I see if my ears are ringing? 

A trained audiologist is the best specialist to see for ringing in the ears or tinnitus. After testing, the audiologist will have enough information to know if there is further medical intervention needed, such as seeing an ENT if there is something suspicious along the auditory system that needs to be identified. In rare cases, tinnitus can be a symptom of a fatty tumor (non-malignant) growing on the auditory nerve. Some middle ear diseases can also have ringing in the ears as part of the symptoms. A trained audiologist will be skilled at tinnitus testing protocol, will provide in-depth counseling on what causes tinnitus, and does a very deep dive investigating medication usage and other contributing conditions. After all of this, if the patient needs more in-depth help with sound machines or hearing aids, this can be accomplished with the audiologist as well. Hearing instrument specialists do not have advanced degrees to go beyond the fitting of a hearing aid.

What is the difference between an otologist and an audiologist? 

An otologist has a medical degree and is a physician. An audiologist completes their clinical doctorate, but they are not physicians. The two professions work hand in hand, as the audiologist tests and evaluates people for hearing and balance issues, and the otologist is able to medically treat conditions that affect areas under the brain and above the shoulders.

What is the difference between an ENT and an audiologist? 

An ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) doctor is a medically trained physician who deals with complex medical issues, often with surgical or medicinal intervention.  An audiologist, by contrast, is the expert in diagnosing hearing loss and balance issues.  They will typically make use of available technology, such as hearing aids, to help manage hearing loss and balance disorders.

Getting the Right Care for Hearing Loss 

Hearing loss may lead to cognitive decline in older adults Even when there is a mild hearing loss this may contribute to a faster rate of atrophy in the brain, states Frank Lin, MD, PhD. We have known for many years that hearing loss is connected to more social isolation as we age, but this is also an area that may affect our brain health as well. The ear picks up sound but the brain must get the information to process. Although we don’t know exactly why, as we know those who are born deaf have no decrease in cognitive function, but one theory is that decreased signals from the ear to the brain has less processing which can contribute to a bottom up approach of cognitive decline. A top down approach is also possible as cognitive deficits may impact a person’s ability to process sound and therefore make the hearing loss more challenging to deal with. 

Connection of untreated hearing loss to depression, social withdrawal, mental health problems

Hearing loss is the most common sensory deficit in older adults. For many years it has been reported that there are negative consequences of not helping hearing loss. As communication becomes more challenging for an individual, many begin to withdraw from social situations. Stopping activities that used to bring joy into a person’s life has many ramifications surrounding our mental health. There is a higher incidence of depression in this population and studies have shown treatment with hearing aids help people stay connected and doing things they enjoy.  

Importance Of Working With The Right Hearing Healthcare Professional

Finding the right professional who will work with you – even before you know there is a problem – is important. Audiologists specialize in the prevention of hearing loss, using workplace monitoring, hearing protection, and technology as tools.  Beyond that, a baseline hearing exam is very valuable to have. Everyone experiences gradual changes in their hearing, but though rare, sudden changes in hearing due to trauma, medications or other unknown factors can also occur.  Having a baseline hearing exam on file allows the audiologist to compare results and verify a change in hearing.  Audiologists are often the gatekeepers to refer a patient to the correct professional for medical or other communication issues. They know when to follow up with additional testing to diagnose changes, treat any hearing or balance issues that may arise, and keep your communication plan moving forward. Find an audiologist who is well established in your community, and make them an essential member of your medical team – they are there to assist you in your lifelong journey toward better hearing!

Dr. Judy Huch

Judy has devoted her career to helping individuals with hearing loss. She has been a practicing audiologist since 1991 and has owned Oro Valley Audiology since 1998. She started Grace Hearing Center (non profit) in 2016 and worked around the world to provide the gift of hearing. You can find Judy at Oro Valley Audiology, AZ.
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Dr. Judy Huch

Judy has devoted her career to helping individuals with hearing loss. She has been a practicing audiologist since 1991 and has owned Oro Valley Audiology since 1998. She started Grace Hearing Center (non profit) in 2016 and worked around the world to provide the gift of hearing. You can find Judy at Oro Valley Audiology, AZ.
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