Ear Doctors, Audiologists, Hearing Aid Specialists — What’s the Difference?

Clearing up the confusion

Individuals looking for hearing loss treatment 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?

The types of hearing care professionals you might encounter in seeking help with your hearing loss differ in both their education and their skills:



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). Audiologists typically offer the following services:

  • Complete diagnostic hearing evaluations for all aged populations
  • Fitting, adjustment, and maintenance of hearing instruments
  • Treatment for balance disorders and tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Hearing and speech rehabilitation programs
  • Earwax removal
  • Occupational hearing testing for OSHA purposes

Audiologists possess comprehensive knowledge of the human auditory and vestibular systems as well as sound reproduction, and they have extensive education of 6 to 8 years of college. This is essential to the accurate fitting of hearing instruments.


Hearing Instrument Specialists

Hearing instrument specialists (or, in some states, licensed hearing aid dispensers) are people who only recommend, sell, and fit hearing instrument technology. They are only experienced in basic hearing tests.

Hearing instrument specialists must be either board certified or licensed by the state. Most states also require an apprenticeship or a specified period of practical experience before they are licensed.


Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) Physicians

ENT’s are physicians (M.D.’s or Doctors of Medicine) who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases of the ears, nose, mouth, and throat. As opposed to an audiologist, who is more like a “hearing doctor,” you can think of an ENT as an “ear doctor.” Trained in both medicine and surgery, ENT’s typically treat the types of profound hearing loss that require pharmaceutical or surgical treatment, like a cochlear implant. These types of hearing loss include loss caused by trauma, infection, or benign tumors in the ear.

If medical or surgical management is contraindicated, an ENT will often refer patients to an audiologist with the prescription and fitting of digital hearing instruments or counseling to help redevelop communication and language recognition skills.

An ENT will often refer patients to an audiologist for pre-medical or pre-surgical evaluations as well as post-medical and post-surgical hearing evaluations.

No matter what type of specialist you decide to see for your hearing needs, the most important factor is the overall experience they provide, which should include a comprehensive approach to diagnosing, treating, and reevaluating your hearing.

Partnering with audiologists who listen to your needs is critical to the success of your treatment plan. We have three audiologists on staff at Family Audiology Associates.

Our audiologists will listen to your needs for the success of your treatment plan. We work very closely with the local ENT’s and if a medical problem is found, a referral will be made to them for further medical/surgical treatment. The overall experience you will receive at Family Audiology Associates is second to none.

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