When looking for hearing loss treatment, you can face a number of challenges, including medical terms that may be unfamiliar and categories of healthcare 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 healthcare 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). They can also be Board Certified. Audiologists typically offer the following services:
- Complete diagnostic hearing exams
- Fitting, adjustment, and maintenance of hearing aids and bone anchored hearing aids
- Activation and mapping of cochlear implants
- Treatment for balance disorders and tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Hearing and speech rehabilitation programs
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 and mapping of cochlear implants.
Hearing Instrument Specialists
Hearing instrument specialists (or, in some states, licensed hearing aid dispensers) are healthcare professionals who specialize in recommending and fitting appropriate hearing aid technology. Hearing instrument specialists are trained to fit the latest technology available in the field, including assistive listening devices such as amplified phones, and are experienced in performing basic hearing tests.
Hearing instrument specialists can be board certified and must be 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, 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 hearing loss that require medical, pharmacological, or surgical treatment, like a cochlear implant or middle ear surgery. 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 fitting of hearing aids or cochlear implant mapping and counseling to help redevelop communication and language recognition skills.
The most important factors when choosing a provider for your hearing and balance care needs are their expertise and 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.