What is an Audiologist?
If you’re seeking hearing loss treatment, you may confront a number of challenges, particularly surrounding the many new medical terms that you will encounter while receiving treatment. One of the most common questions is “What is an audiologist?” Many new hearing loss patients also wonder what audiologists do and how they differ from other professionals, such as ear doctors (otolaryngologists) and hearing instrument specialists.
What’s the Difference Between an Audiologist, Otolaryngologist and Hearing Instrument Specialist?
There are three basic types of health care professionals and medical specialists that you’ll encounter while seeking hearing loss treatment. Let’s take a look at what audiologists do and how they differ from the other types of health care professionals who will be providing assistance.
Hearing Doctors – Audiologists and Doctors of Audiology
An audiologist is a licensed health care professional who deals in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing impairments and other issues, such as inner ear-related balance disorders, also known as vestibular system disorders.
Audiologists, who can be most accurately described as a “hearing doctor,” treat patients of all ages. Most have earned an Au.D degree, although some may also have other degrees, such as a Ph.D. or Sc.D.
You may visit an audiologist for a number of different hearing care services, such as:
- hearing exams;
- hearing rehabilitation programs;
- hearing aid fittings, adjustments and maintenance;
- treatment for tinnitus (ear ringing); and
- treatment for balance disorders involving the inner ear.
An audiologist has comprehensive knowledge of the human vestibular and auditory system. They also have extensive expertise in the area of sound reproduction, which is vital for ensuring that your hearing aid provides the maximum benefit.
Ear Doctors – Otolaryngologists
Otolaryngologists are medical doctors or M.D.s. also called ear, nose and throat doctors or ENTs, these physicians specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and injuries involving the ears, nose and throat.
While conditions impacting the ears, nose and throat can certainly impact hearing ability, an otolaryngologist does not specialize in hearing like an audiologist; they are more focused on the general health of this organ system.
Otolaryngologists are trained in medicine and surgery, so they can perform ear surgery, ranging from the placement of ear tubes to prevent chronic ear infections, to the placement of cochlear implants, which are used to treat congenital and other forms of profound hearing loss. The latter can arise from trauma, infection or even tumors.
Once the otolaryngologist completes a patient’s therapeutic or surgical treatment, he or she may refer the hearing loss patient to an audiologist to get digital hearing aids or to receive help developing communication, language and hearing skills (which are required for patients who have been profoundly deaf from birth. Many do not know “how” to make sense of and focus on just one sound – like a voice – amidst a number of different sounds that are present in the environment.
Hearing Aid Specialists – Hearing Instrument Specialists
A hearing instrument specialist may also be called a licensed hearing aid dispenser in some regions. These healthcare professionals are typically licensed by the state and many also hold board certifications. Most are required to complete an apprenticeship under another experienced and licensed/certified hearing instrument specialist before obtaining their own license and board certification.
Hearing instrument specialists specialize in hearing aid technology and are considered experts in all areas of assistive listening devices, including alarm and phone systems for the hearing impaired.
You can expect to undergo a basic hearing evaluation and hearing tests when you visit a hearing instrument specialist, as they need to evaluate you for your degree of hearing loss. Additional testing and evaluation is usually performed after you have been fitted with a hearing aid to ensure that the device is working properly and offering the maximum possible benefit to you as a patient.
When seeking an audiologist, otolaryngologist or hearing instrument specialist, it’s important to choose an experienced professional who utilizes a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to the diagnosis and treatment of your hearing loss.