There are some confusing options when it comes to hearing healthcare. I'd like to discuss the differences, and why you would choose to see an Audiologist.
What is an Audiologist?
An Audiologist is a healthcare professional who has specialized in human communication and communication disorders. An audiology education studies hearing, balance, and related disorders. An audiology program includes multiple courses in anatomy and physiology, disorders of the ear, hearing loss treatment and rehabilitation, and also balance assessment and treatment. An audiologist must attend college for at least 7 years, with a terminal degree as either a masters degree or doctoral degree. Additionally, an Audiologist must be licensed by the state in which he or she practices, and may seek national certification through the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA). This certification is the only nationally recognized certification, and is part of the requirement to obtain licensure. To quote ASHA's scope of practice for Audiology:
"The practice of audiology includes both the prevention of and assessment of auditory, vestibular, and related impairments as well as the habilitation/rehabilitation and maintenance of persons with these impairments. The overall goal of the provision of audiology services should be to optimize and enhance the ability of an individual to hear, as well as to communicate in his/her everyday or natural environment. In addition, audiologists provide comprehensive services to individuals with normal hearing who interact with persons with a hearing impairment. The overall goal of audiologic services is to improve the quality of life for all of these individuals."
What is a Hearing Instrument Specialist?
A Hearing Instrument Specialist (HIS) is required to have a high school diploma, and pass a licensing exam administered by the State. They can seek additional certification by taking a national exam. A Hearing Instrument Specialist is restricted from dispensing hearing aids to those under the age of 18 unless the person has been examined by an otolaryngologist or an audiologist within 30 days of the hearing aid fitting. (State of Idaho Title 54, Chapter 29).
This letter from the American Academy of Audiology to Representative Scott Newcomer further explains the difference.
What is an Otolaryngologist?
An Otolaryngologist is a medical physician who specializes in diseases of the ears, nose and throat (often referred to as an ENT physician). They have a medical degree, plus a 5 year residency training. They are best suited to diagnose and treat any medical conditions that affect the head. Often, Audiologists and ENTs work hand in hand to care for patients. An ENT does not typically dispense hearing aids or work with patients on hearing rehabilitation.
Why choose to be seen by an Audiologist?
This is best answered by a question. How accurate do you want your hearing aids and rehabilitation plan to be? As part of their training, Audiologists are taught the foundations of how sound works, the underpinnings of hearing aid fitting algorithms, and the best ways to identify not only hearing loss, but any underlying conditions that may need medical attention. Using best practice guidelines, accurate hearing aid fittings are dependent on detailed hearing evaluations, use of pre and post fitting surveys, and real ear or speechmapping to verify fit. Unlike glasses, which only correct for a lens problem, most hearing loss is due to nerve damage in the inner ear. A hearing aid fitting takes time to acclimate to a new signal, and often multiple visits in the first month fine tune for each individual. It takes an expert to fit them precisely.