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?
Ear Doctors, Audiologists, Hearing Aid Specialists — What’s the Difference?
The types of hearing care professionals you might encounter in seeking help with your hearing loss differ in both their education and their skills:
Audiologists and Doctors of Audiology
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. An Audiologist is to hearing what an Optometrist is to vision. In Canada, an audiologist requires at least a Master’s Degree in Audiology. Audiologists who are trained in the US have Doctor of Audiology Degrees (A.uD.) Some Audiologists also have a PhD’s. Audiologists typically offer the following services:
- Complete hearing exams
- Fitting, adjustment, and maintenance of hearing aids
- Treatment for balance disorders and tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Hearing and speech rehabilitation programs
Audiologists possess comprehensive knowledge of the human auditory and vestibular systems, and they have extensive training in sound reproduction, which is critical to the accurate fitting and adjustment of hearing aids.
Hearing Instrument Specialists
Hearing instrument specialists are healthcare professionals who specialize in recommending and fitting appropriate hearing aid technology. In Canada, Hearing Instrument Specialists must be certified or licensed by the provinces. Hearing instrument specialists are typically up to date on the latest technology available in the field — including assistive listening devices (amplified telephones, alarm systems, etc.) — and are experienced in performing and evaluating basic hearing tests.
Hearing instrument specialists must be either board certified or licensed by the province. Most provinces also require an apprenticeship or a specified period of practical experience before they are licensed.
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 focuses on the sense of hearing, an otolaryngologist focuses on the physical condition of the ear. 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.