The types of hearing care professionals you might encounter in seeking help with your hearing loss differ in both their education and their skills:
One key difference between an audiologist and a hearing instrument specialist is the minimum amount of education required & scope of practice:
Audiologists must currently earn a professional degree (Doctor of Audiology, or Au.D.) which typically involves 4 years of academic and clinical training in audiology, following a traditional 4-year bachelor’s degree. That’s a total of eight years of education and practicum.
Audiologists are licensed and trained to manage many areas of hearing healthcare. Included in their scope of practice:
- Identify, test, diagnose, and manage disorders of human hearing, balance, and tinnitus; interpret test results of behavioral and objective measures
- Counsel patients about hearing health and the possible need for treatment/management
- Assess the candidacy of persons with hearing loss for hearing aids and cochlear implants and provide fitting, programming, and audiological rehabilitation to ensure the best possible outcomes
- Supervise and conduct newborn hearing screening programs
- Evaluate and manage children and adults with central auditory processing disorders
- Screen speech-language, the use of sign language, and other factors affecting communication function for the purposes of audiological evaluation and/or initial identification of individuals with other communication disorders
- Perform otoscopic examination of ear canals and ear drum, manage the removal of excessive cerumen, and make ear impressions
- Recommend and provide hearing aid selection, fitting, and programming
- Recommend and provide hearing assistive technology systems (HATS)
- Recommend and provide audiological rehabilitation—including speech reading, communication management, language development, and auditory skill development
- Perform assessment and nonmedical management of tinnitus
- Counsel and educate patients and families/caregivers on the psychosocial adjustments of hearing loss
- Collaborate with educators regarding communication management, educational implications of hearing loss, educational programming, classroom acoustics, and large-area amplification systems for children with hearing loss
- Educate the public on the prevention of hearing loss, tinnitus, and falls
- Consult about accessibility for persons with hearing loss in public and private buildings, programs, and services
- Implement and/or coordinate community, school-based, or occupational hearing screening and conservation programs
- Participate in the development of professional and technical standards
- Demonstrate the value of audiological services by measuring functional outcomes, consumer satisfaction, and effectiveness of treatment
- Supervise audiology assistants who provide support functions to the practice of audiology
Hearing Instrument Specialist
The educational requirements for hearing instruments specialists vary from state-to-state. In many states, the minimum requirement is a high school diploma, passing a license exam, and some form of brief apprenticeship with a licensed hearing aid specialist.
The scope of practice for hearing aid specialists is limited to the following services:
- Basic hearing tests exclusively for the purpose of selling hearing aids to adults only
- Take ear impressions for hearing aid fitting or custom listening products
- Hearing aid fitting and sales, including sales of assistive listening devices
ENT or Otolaryngologist
Otolaryngologists 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 otolaryngologist as an “ear doctor.” Trained in both medicine and surgery, otolaryngologists 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.
After completing a medical course of treatment, otolaryngologists often refer patients to an audiologist for the prescription and fitting of digital hearing aids or counseling to help redevelop communication and language recognition skills.
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 a professional who listens to your needs is critical to the success of your treatment plan.