Hearing loss is the third most common chronic medical condition people experience today. Impacting over 48 million people in the U.S., nearly 1 in 3 adults between the ages of 65 and 74 have impaired hearing. This increases to 1 in 2 adults, ages 75 and over according to the National Institutes of Health. Additionally, the World Health Organization estimates that the number of people living with hearing loss will nearly double by 2050. Intervening early and seeking treatment for hearing loss is an important way to protect hearing health from further impairment. Navigating your options for providers can be tricky because there are a few types of specialists that specialize in ear-related conditions. Understanding the differences between these health care providers can better help you identify which specialist is right for you.
Scope of Hearing Loss
Though hearing loss is a pervasive health issue, it remains underdiagnosed. A few factors contribute to this including it typically occurs slowly so it can take people quite some time to notice changes, a common misconception about hearing loss is that it is not too serious and can be cured, and it can be difficult to acknowledge and prioritize health. On average, people wait 7 years before addressing hearing impairment from the time symptoms began. Delaying treatment can worsen impairment as well as the impact of symptoms – strained communication, social withdrawal, and distance in relationships. It is important to know that there are different types of specialists, effective treatment options, and extensive resources which support taking action and prioritizing your health.
Types of Hearing Specialists
If you start with your primary health care provider who identifies issues related to your ears or hearing, you could be referred to one of the following types of specialists:
- Otolaryngologists: also known as ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctors, otolaryngologists are medical doctors that specialize in conditions related to the ears, nose, and throat. In addition to running diagnostics to evaluate and identify diseases specific to these areas, ENT doctors also perform surgeries related to the head and neck. This includes surgeries like removing growths in the ear and correcting the placement of tubes. ENT doctors receive training as part of their medical degree program to perform these complex tear surgeries. Audiologists and ENT doctors often work together to diagnose and effectively treat underlying ear-related conditions.
- Audiologist: an audiologist specializes in assessing, diagnosing, and treating hearing loss as well as related disorders including balance issues. Audiologists are not medical doctors but rather, doctors of audiology (MD compared to AuD). This means that they’ve completed a four-year doctoral degree that focuses on the ear and ear-related health conditions. In addition to evaluating and treating conditions like hearing loss, tinnitus, and balance disorders; audiologists can provide hearing aids. Hearing aids are medical devices that are the most common treatment for hearing loss.
- Hearing Instrument Specialist: this type of specialist is licensed to select and fit hearing aids. They have extensive knowledge and training in hearing aid technology, allowing them to administer these devices. Hearing instrument specialists are versed in establishing hearing aid settings that meet the wearer’s specific needs. These specialists do not medically assess hearing loss or related conditions. They have a narrower focus which is to fit hearing aids.
The specialist you see depends on the specifics of your ear and hearing health needs. Audiologists can comprehensively examine, diagnose, and treat hearing loss. If a treatment requires surgery, an audiologist will likely recommend seeing an ENT for further examination.
Prioritize Your Health Today
If you or a loved one has experienced any symptoms that indicate changes to your ear or hearing health, it is important to be evaluated. Call us today to schedule an appointment! Our team consists of audiologists, physicians, ENT specialists, and more!