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Otolaryngologist vs. Audiologist vs. Hearing Aid Specialist

Wondering who you should talk to about your hearing impairment? Most people have difficulty understanding the differences between an otolaryngologist, audiologist, and a hearing aid specialist. All three of these types of professionals can help you understand your hearing loss, though all in somewhat different ways. For instance, if you have excessive earwax, encounter issues with a hearing device, or are considering some form of corrective surgery, talking to the wrong specialist will mean a wasted doctor visit. So what is an otolaryngologist, audiologist, and hearing aid specialist, and who should you talk to when you’re experiencing different types of symptoms?

What Is an Otolaryngologist?

An otolaryngologist is the formal name of an ear-nose-throat doctor, or ENT. They are the heavy-hitting doctors dealing with medical issues related to the ear, nose, throat, and larynx as well as areas around the head and neck, with expertise in a vast array of medical issues, from cancers to allergies to sinus problems to major trauma. They have a medical Ph.D. and have experience with general surgery. Often, they’ll perform minor surgeries; they’re also the doctors you’d see if you needed your tonsils taken out. In general, you’ll be sent to an otolaryngologist if you’re having a medical hearing problem or ear disorder. Often, if your impairment is one that’s possible to treat with surgery, you’ll talk to an ENT. Children often are referred to this type of specialist first.

Here are a few other reasons why you should see an ENT:

  • You’re experiencing balance issues, dizziness, or ear pain. Ear pain is often the major indicator of an ENT problem that stems from a medical issue.
  • Your hearing loss may be related to autoimmune issues, tumors, bone growth, or medications.
  • You’ve experienced some sort of head trauma, or your hearing loss happened after some sort of accident.
  • You’ve experienced Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL).
  • In general, it’s a good idea to check with an ENT if you’ve experienced hearing loss that may not only have to do with age.

Learn more about ENTs.

What Is an Audiologist?

Rather than studying the ear, nose, and throat, audiologists study hearing itself; they handle the non-medical side of hearing issues, most often working with patients who’ve experienced hearing loss due to the natural aging process. Audiologists must have a master’s or doctorate. Usually, your audiologist will have an Au.D. from a trusted institution (which is equivalent to a Ph.D.). While they don’t perform surgeries, they most often do diagnostic tests and talk with patients about the issues they’re experiencing to find better solutions, from auditory skills development to recommending hearing technology. They are also more likely to be involved in the community (such as in schools), catch issues early on in children, and work with families. Understanding what is an audiologist can help one decide when it’s a good idea to talk to them rather than a formal, surgery-trained ENT.

It may be better to talk to an audiologist if you’re experiencing the following:

  • You’re noticing aging-related hearing loss.
  • You have a hard time hearing people in a big crowd.
  • You have a hard time hearing higher-pitched sounds, such as the voices of children.
  • You have experienced excessive earwax.
  • You’re experiencing tinnitus (which is a ringing or buzzing in the ears).

Learn more about the roles of audiologists.

What Is a Hearing Aid Specialist?

When you need to buy a hearing aid, you’ll talk to someone who is referred to as a hearing aid dealer or specialist. It’s important to point out that these specialists don’t need an Au.D., Ph.D., or medical degree of any kind. Often, the specialist will complete a course that’s a few weeks long. Part of their course will include clinical observation. Though they may have several years of experience and likely have a non-medical degree, hearing aid specialists cannot diagnose medical issues or perform tests that are unrelated to specific hearing aid products. This person is someone you go to when you’ve already had a diagnosis and need help in finding, fitting, and programming your device. They’ll often have an audiometer or take ear molds. They can make sure that the hearing aid fits and works optimally. If you find an issue that’s related to a device but rather is a new symptom, these non-medical professionals may refer you to an ENT or audiologist instead.

So when should you talk to a hearing aid specialist?

  • You need a hearing aid adjusted to fit your ear properly.
  • You’re buying a hearing aid and it needs to be programmed.
  • You’re wondering if a new type of hearing aid is for you.
  • Your hearing aid is acting up somehow, with beeping, fuzzy sounds, or other technical issues.

Lean more about hearing aid specialists.