There is a lot of confusion today on who is the best provider for your hearing health needs. While each provider plays a different role, their levels of training and expertise vary greatly. Here’s a look at the types of hearing healthcare providers:
An otolaryngologist – ear, nose, and throat physician – is a medical or osteopathic physician who specializes in the care of the ears, nose, and throat. ENTs differ from audiologists and dispensers in their levels of training and in what they can diagnose and treat. As a medical physician with eight additional years of medical training past college, an ENT is licensed to practice medicine and surgery. An otolaryngologist diagnoses and treats diseases of the ears, nose, and throat, performs surgeries like tonsil removals and ear tube placement, and may refer patients to other providers for rehabilitation.
Subspecialists: Otologist and Neuro-otologist
While otolaryngologists are trained to care for all ear, nose, and throat conditions, some specialize in a specific area of medical or surgical care such as the ear. This person is called a subspecialist. He or she usually completes one to two years of additional training called a fellowship. This added training and knowledge prepares otologists and neuro-otologists to take care of more complex or specific conditions in the ear.
Audiologists are healthcare professionals who provide diagnostic and rehabilitative care ranging from hearing testing and hearing aids to the diagnosis, treatment, and management of dizziness and tinnitus. An audiologist is not a medical doctor. An audiologist receives a doctor of audiology (AuD) degree after completing four years of audiology school, preceded by at least three years of college. They are licensed to practice audiology, which primarily involves performing hearing and balance exams, dispensing hearing aids, detecting certain ear abnormalities, and working with tinnitus.
Hearing Aid Dispenser/Hearing Instrument Specialist
Hearing instrument specialists (HIS) are technicians trained to dispense hearing aids and screen hearing for the purpose of fitting hearing aids. HIS are not permitted to diagnose hearing loss, treat dizziness, or work with children without a physician’s order. In Missouri, HIS are required to have an associates degree, although it does not have to be in a field related to hearing aids or hearing science.
Protect your ears and be sure to see the right professional at the right time.
We all depend on our ears in more ways than we realize. Without healthy ears, our ability to work, play, or communicate can be affected. Very often, problems with dizziness and balance are unnoticeable at first and are difficult to detect. That’s why it’s important to have your hearing checked every ten years until age 50 and every three to five years after that.
If you are noticing sudden changes in hearing, balance, or tinnitus, you should see an ENT physician. If you are having difficulties managing your tinnitus, are noticing problems understanding people, or are under the age of 21, you should see an audiologist. And if you feel you just can not hear well, you could see any of the above providers. Be sure to choose the right professional for you and have your ears checked regularly.