Individuals looking for hearing loss treatment face a number of challenges, including medical terms that may be unfamiliar and categories of health care 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
Audiologists typically complete seven years of university training followed by twelve month supervised externship in order to obtain their Doctor of Audiology degree. An audiologist is a licensed hearing health care professional who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss and balance disorders in adults and children. Audiologists are also the most highly trained and educated of any medical professional to recommend and fit hearing aids and other hearing assistance technology. You can think of an audiologist primarily as a “hearing doctor.” Audiologists typically offer the following services:

  • Complete diagnostic hearing exams
  • Advanced fitting, programming, and maintenance of hearing aids
  • Treatment for balance disorders and tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Hearing and speech rehabilitation programs

Hearing Instrument Specialists
Hearing instrument specialists in New York State must complete a written and practical exam as well as a period of supervised work experience. Hearing instrument specialists are familiar with current hearing aid technology and licensed to provide basic hearing tests for the purpose of hearing aid fitting. Most insurance plans provide coverage for hearing evaluations performed by an audiologist but do not cover testing performed by a hearing aid dispenser.

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.