It can be challenging to know where to turn when you need help with your hearing. A hearing professional can test your hearing, help you understand the impact of ignoring your hearing loss, provide advice, answer questions, and describe the options that are available to you.
There are three different types of professionals available for different aspects of hearing health and treatment: audiologists, otolaryngologists (better known as ENT — ear, nose, and throat physician), and hearing instrument specialists/hearing aid dispensers. Below, each type of professional is defined by how they approach your hearing health and treatment and their level of training.
A Doctor of Audiology offers a full range of services including evaluation, diagnosis, treatment, and management of hearing and balance disorders in people of all ages in order to to improve quality of life. They conduct comprehensive diagnostic assessments to understand each individual’s condition. Depending on the issue that needs to be addressed, the audiologist can offer hearing loss management with hearing aids or implantable hearing devices like cochlear implants; fit protective hearing devices to reduce the risk of noise-induced hearing loss; offer communication strategies and auditory therapy, remove ear wax, and provide management, rehabilitation, and therapy techniques for patients with dizziness and balance (vestibular) and other related disorders, such as tinnitus. Audiologists can refer patients to an ENT physician for potential medical issues that need treatment beyond the audiologist’s scope of practice.
Audiologists must earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, complete a doctorate in an audiology (Au.D.) program, serve a fellowship or externship year, and pass a board examination to become licensed. In many states, audiologists must complete their state licensing exam and will successfully renew their license by completing continuing education courses.
You can learn more and find a licensed Audiologist through these professional organization:
A hearing aid specialist is a health care professional trained to conduct hearing evaluations, screen for conditions indicating the need for physician referral, identify common types of hearing loss, and dispense and adjust hearing aids. They administer and interpret the results of hearing examinations to select the appropriate hearing aid technology, perform tests to confirm the fit and function of hearing aids, and provide counseling to patients and their families to optimize success with hearing aids and communication. As part of the hearing aid fitting process, they take ear mold impressions, repair and troubleshoot hearing aids, and perform limited earwax removal and tinnitus management through the use of hearing aids.
Hearing aid specialists are state-licensed professionals who are trained using either an Academic Training Model (Associates Degree) or a Practice-based Training Model (Apprenticeship), depending upon state requirements, and generally must pass written and practical examinations to assure minimal competency. To maintain their license, they are required to complete continuing education hours as required by their state license.
You can learn more and find a licensed Hearing Aid Specialist through the following organization:
An Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) physician, also known as an otolaryngologist, specializes in all aspects of the diagnosis and treatment of problems related to hearing and balance. This includes all causes and types of hearing loss, such as congenital loss, loss caused by infection or tumors, noise-induced loss, eardrum perforations, age-related hearing loss, and sudden hearing loss. An accurate diagnosis is critical to maximizing one’s hearing after a loss. There are many types of hearing loss that are now treatable either medically or surgically that don’t need amplification if caught in time. ENTs’ scope of practice includes treating ear infections, repairing perforated eardrums and removing tumors of the ear, diagnosing and treating other acute and chronic ear-related diseases, neurological problems, and providing surgery for cochlear implant candidates. ENT physicians also promote good ear hygiene and provide information on hearing protection from noise and other trauma.
ENTs must complete a bachelor's degree, medical school, and five to eight years of intensive, post-graduate training. They are then eligible to be certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery.
You can learn more and find an ENT physician through the following organization:
If you are experiencing common age-related or noise-induced hearing loss, seeing a hearing professional is the best choice to fully understand the nature of your hearing loss and possible solutions. If you are experiencing sudden hearing loss, pain, or drainage, it's best to consult with an ENT right away. For ringing in the ears and balance issues, visit an ENT or audiologist. To get a hearing test and ask general questions about your hearing or available hearing aid technology, an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist can assist you.
Remember, healthy hearing results in positive health outcomes, increases social engagement, improves communication and lowers the risk of depression. Visit the Find a Hearing Professional page to find hearing professionals available in your area.
There are many types of hearing loss including age-related and noise-induced hearing loss, but it is important to have the correct diagnosis and severity of the loss identified since treatment is based on these factors. A complete ear exam and hearing test gives you the best chance of improving your hearing. The exam and test can determine if you have a treatable cause of hearing loss that can be medically or surgically corrected, which may not require amplification. The initial exam can be done by a hearing professional such as an audiologist or ENT physician. Significant ringing in the ears or balance problems often are related to other medical problems and should be fully evaluated by a physician as should ear pain, drainage, and sudden changes in hearing or balance.