Contributed by Joy Victory, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
With so many different titles, credentials and specialties, it can sometimes be hard to determine which type of professional to see for your particular ear or hearing concern. How do you know when to see an audiologist versus an ENT, for example? What about a hearing instrument specialist? There are experts equipped to address all aspects of your hearing and balance, and we have put together a primer about each of their specific roles so you can find the right professional to meet your needs.
An audiologist is a medical professional with a master’s degree, clinical doctorate (AuD) or research-based doctorate (PhD) in audiology from an accredited university. They have extensive education and training in diagnostic testing to identify, evaluate and measure hearing loss and other related disorders, including balance disorders and tinnitus. Some audiologists have areas of specialty including pediatrics, balance disorders, cochlear implants, hearing conservation or hearing aids. If they dispense hearing aids or other assistive devices, they are licensed by the state, and they can find solutions for every patient based on hearing loss, budget, style preference and lifestyle. Audiologists work in a variety of settings, including hearing aid clinics.
Reasons to see an audiologist:
- You’ve noticed changes in your hearing, or a loved one has
- You wish to purchase hearing aids
- You need programming and maintenance of hearing aids
- You’re experiencing ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
- Concerns about your child’s hearing (pediatric audiologist)
- Hearing implant programming and aftercare, for cochlear implants or bone-anchored hearing systems
Hearing instrument specialist (HIS)
A hearing instrument specialist is a state-licensed professional who evaluates hearing problems and selects and fits hearing aids. Like audiologists, they are skilled at finding the right hearing solution based on your hearing evaluation, lifestyle, and budget. Hearing instrument specialists’ practices typically focus on the adult population with common types of hearing loss, such as age-related or noise-induced. Hearing loss in children, and especially babies, can be complex and requires the attention of a pediatric audiologist and sometimes an otolaryngologist.
Reasons to see a hearing instrument specialist (HIS):
- Changes in your hearing (adults only)
- You wish to purchase hearing aids
- You need a hearing test
- Programming and maintenance of hearing aids
Otolaryngologist and otologists (MD)
An otolaryngologist, also known as an ENT, is a medical doctor trained in the medical and surgical management of diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat and related structures of the head and neck. Otolaryngologists offer a broad range of services for ear disorders such as hearing loss, ear infections, middle ear problems, swimmer’s ear, balance disorders, tinnitus, cranial nerve disorders and congenital disorders of both the outer and inner ear. They must be certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology, which requires 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school and a 5-year residency in otolaryngology.
Like an otolaryngologist, an otologist is a physician specialist, but they are further focused on the ears and their related structures. After medical school, they complete further training that allows them to provide medical and surgical care for patients with diseases and disorders that affect the ears, balance system and base of the skull.
Reasons to see an otolaryngologist or otologist:
Closely related to an otologist is a neurotologist. They specialize in surgical intervention for hearing disorders resulting from problems deep within the temporal bone or base of the skull and work with neurosurgeons to correct diseases and disorders of the cranial nerves.
Reasons to see a neurotologist:
More: Medical doctors who treat hearing loss: Otolaryngologists and neurotologists
Usually employed in the school system, an educational audiologist is trained to work with children who have hearing loss to ensure they receive the same educational opportunities as their hearing peers. They can play a role in identifying a child’s hearing loss, but they are uniquely qualified to determine the impact the hearing loss has on learning. They work as part of a team to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and formulate a plan for the student to receive maximum support in the classroom, including recommendations for hearing assistive technology. Other responsibilities might include counseling parents and teachers regarding the child’s hearing loss and individual needs, and educating the school population about hearing loss.
Reasons to see an educational audiologist:
- Development of an IEP once your child has been diagnosed with hearing loss
- Help mainstreaming your child with hearing loss
- Managing the support of your child with hearing loss in the school system
More: What to do if you suspect your child has hearing loss
If you need help for hearing loss
As a first step, see our directory of consumer-reviewed hearing aid clinics to find audiologists and hearing instrument specialists near you and make the call. If they determine that your hearing issues are complex, they can help connect you with a physician.