Your Hearing Health Team

With hearing loss emerging as a global health concern, many of us are encouraged to take a hearing test or consult with our audiologist. The problem here, of course, is that most of us do not have an audiologist and many of us cannot define the job of audiologist. Is he/she an ear doctor, hearing aid specialist, or something altogether more general or specialized?


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? What is an otolaryngologist and how do they differ from a hearing doctor?


One primary defining characteristic of the healthcare professionals you encounter when you seek treatment for hearing loss is the professional level of education. Audiologists typically have an advanced degree such as a Ph.D. They also offer services not available elsewhere. These services include comprehensive hearing exams and advanced consultation on hearing aid fittings and adjustments. The audiologist typically possesses comprehensive knowledge of the human auditory and vestibular systems; they likely have extensive training and experience with sound reproduction. The combination of training, education, and experience translate to a professional audiologist.

Hearing Instrument Specialists

Hearing instrument specialists have less school training than audiologists, but still are highly trained. Their role is in the recommendation and fitting of hearing aid technology. To this end, all specialists are board certified or licensed, have served an apprenticeship, are up-to-date on the latest technology changes in the field, and are capable of performing and evaluating basic hearing tests. This combination of skills means the best service when it comes time to get a hearing aid device.


A third possible professional you may encounter in your treatment is the otolaryngologist. The otolaryngologist is a licensed physician with a specialty in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the ears, nose, mouth, and throat. The otolaryngologist more often treats structural and medical issues within the ear. By contrast, the audiologist focuses on issues of hearing. In some cases, both an audiologist and an otolaryngologist will be involved in treatment. In fact, after the intervention of an otolaryngologist, you will often be referred to an audiologist for the fitting of hearing aids and/or additional therapy related to communication and language recognition skills.


Your hearing is a serious matter. The training and expertise of your hearing healthcare team is the foundation for proper diagnosis, treatment, rehabilitation, and continued service. From minor hearing loss to traumatic injuries affecting your hearing, your team is working for you. Understanding the roles they play and their training, education, and experience better prepares you to have an effective relationship with them. Talk to others who have had treatment and find a team that you can partner with to develop and implement an effective plan. In the end, it is not about the audiologist, hearing device specialist, or the otolaryngologist; it is about the quality of your life and the lives of those around you.

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