It can be challenging to know where to turn when you need help with your hearing. In a recent MarkeTrak 2022 study conducted by the Hearing Industries Association (HIA), it was found that on average, people wait four years before acting on their hearing loss after they notice there may be an issue.1 Sometimes this is due to not knowing where to turn or who to talk to. Your hearing health is like a fingerprint, being unique to you and different from everyone else. Your best bet to understanding your hearing health and finding a pathway forward is by speaking with a hearing professional who can test your hearing, explain the results, and determine the best course of treatment that fits your long-term needs and lifestyle.
There are three different types of professionals available for different aspects of hearing health and treatment: audiologists, hearing instrument specialists/hearing aid dispensers, and otolaryngologists (better known as ENT – ear, nose, and throat physician). Below, each type of professional is defined by how they approach your hearing health and treatment and their level of training.
An audiologist can identify, assess, diagnose, and manage hearing and balance disorders in people of all ages to improve quality of life. They will review your history and discuss methods of treatment that will fit your needs and lifestyle. Depending on the issue that needs to be addressed, the audiologist can offer hearing loss treatment through hearing aids, fit protective hearing devices to reduce the risk of noise induced hearing loss, discuss tinnitus, and/or use balance therapy techniques for dizziness and balance disorders. Audiologists can also refer patients to an ENT physician (described below) if they find a potential medical issue that needs 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 (AuD) program, serve a fellowship or externship year, and pass a board examination to become licensed. Audiologists must complete their state licensing exam and continuing education courses to successfully renew their license.
A hearing instrument specialist, or hearing aid dispenser depending on state licensing terminology, is a professional who is trained to identify common types of hearing loss and dispense hearing aids. They administer and read the results of hearing tests to select the appropriate hearing aid technology. They can also take ear mold impressions, repair and troubleshoot hearing aids, and in some states, they can remove earwax.
Hearing instrument specialists are required to complete the training program designated by their state and pass the state licensing examination. To maintain their license, they are required to complete continuing education hours as required by their state license. There are no college or post-graduate requirements to become a hearing instrument specialist.
An otolaryngologist/ENT physician specializes in all issues affecting the ear, nose, and throat. To provide healthy hearing, their scope of practice includes treating ear infections, repairing perforated eardrums, diagnosing other ear-related disease, neurological problems, and providing surgery for cochlear implant candidates. Some medical insurances and practices require a referral from an audiologist or primary care physician to visit an ENT.
ENTs must complete a bachelor’s degree, medical school, and five to eight years of intensive, post-graduate training. They must also pass the American Board of Otolaryngology examination, secure a license, and become board certified.
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. You may find that it is simply an issue with ear wax, or it might require a different solution. Before you make an investment, schedule a visit to find a device that will best suit your hearing needs, function properly, be trustworthy with your payment details, and adhere to refund policies. 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 research and find the professionals available in your area.