Ear Doctors, Audiologists, Hearing Aid Specialists — What’s the Difference?

Hearing care professionals differ in both their education and their skills

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?

 

Audiologists and Doctors of Audiology

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. You can think of an audiologist primarily as a “hearing doctor.” Most audiologists have completed a doctor of audiology (Au.D.) degree, though there are other doctoral degrees within the field (Ph.D., Sc.D., and others). 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 (HIS) or, in some states, licensed hearing aid dispensers) are health care professionals who are licensed to perform audiometric testing for the sole purpose of selling and fitting hearing aids. In many states, hearing aid dispensers are only required to have a high school diploma. In other states, hearing aid dispensers must complete two years of college, or post-secondary education in any field, prior to applying for licensure. 

 

Otolaryngologist

Otolaryngologists are physicians (M.D.s or D.O.s) who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases of the ears, nose, mouth, and throat. As opposed to an audiologist, who is 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 hearing loss that require pharmaceutical or surgical intervention. 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, and 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.