Who Should I See if I Suspect I Have a Hearing Problem?

It can be confusing to know who to turn to for what. What is the difference between an audiologist, an ENT, a hearing aid dispenser, and even my primary care physician? If I do have a hearing loss, why should I see an audiologist instead of an ENT or a hearing aid dispenser? These are all great questions, and it’s important to know and understand the differences so you can get the right hearing healthcare for you and your loved ones.

Of course most of us are familiar with our primary care physicians (medical doctors, M.D., or doctors of osteopathy, D.O.) and their roles in preventive care, health maintenance, and disease control. They are usually our first choice when requiring medical attention. As it pertains to hearing, a primary care physician will prescribe medication to treat infections or other medical conditions of the ear (such as dizziness), remove earwax and other foreign objects from the ear, and screen for hearing loss to determine whether referral for diagnostic evaluation is indicated or not. From there a patient may be referred to an otolaryngologist or audiologist. Health insurance will often cover an appointment with a primary care physician, although prior authorization may be required at times.

An otolaryngologist, or ENT, is also a medical doctor, or doctor of osteopathy, who extended their education and training to specialize in diseases of the ear, nose, and throat. An ENT generally sees a patient when a disease process is beyond the scope of the primary care physician, especially if surgery is indicated. An otolaryngologist also prescribes medication. An otolaryngologist generally does not perform audiology/hearing evaluations or vestibular/balance evaluations, but they may employ an audiologist to provide these in the office or refer to an audiologist elsewhere. The ENT then uses that information to determine whether a hearing loss is medically or surgically correctable and to make recommendations for treatment from there. A patient may contact an otolaryngologist’s office to arrange an appointment on their own, and insurance will generally cover these appointments but may require prior authorization for certain procedures.

Here is where most of the confusion lies. What is the difference between a hearing aid dispenser and an audiologist?

Although there are some similarities between the audiologist and hearing aid dispenser job descriptions, there are also several key differences. For example, a hearing aid dispenser is licensed to complete audiometric testing for the sole purpose of fitting and selling hearing aids. A hearing aid dispenser’s license is obtained through a state licensing examination. Once passed, the hearing aid dispenser often becomes a franchisee, or company store, of a particular manufacturer. The biggest thing to note: A dispenser is not permitted to complete or charge for any diagnostic hearing evaluation and may not see or dispense to children.

An audiologist, or Au.D., is a doctor of audiology who specializes in hearing loss prevention, identifying, diagnosing, treating, and monitoring disorders of the auditory and vestibular systems of the ear, which means audiologists are trained to diagnose, manage, and/or treat hearing or balance problems. This treatment can include, but is not limited to, hearing aids. An audiologist is required to attend eight years of college specializing in hearing and balance function and disorders. The Au.D. is then nationally certified and holds and maintains a state license. An audiologist does not prescribe medication. Anyone may privately pay for audiology services, but currently a patient must be referred by their primary care physician or an ENT in order for insurance to pay for their evaluation. If a hearing loss is identified that is not medically or surgically treatable, then the audiologist recommends the appropriate treatment, which can include hearing technology; provides aided verification and aural rehabilitation counseling; and monitors hearing and hearing aid performance. In addition, audiologists are trained to fit people of all ages with the technology needed.

I chose to become an audiologist so I could have more freedom to provide solutions to people. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of helping more than 10,000 patients in the greater Columbus area, and I look forward to serving 10,000 more! I know it can be daunting finding good medical providers, so here are my recommendations for evaluating a potential audiologist:

  • Do they have experience and a license?
  • Do they communicate clearly with you about all aspects of hearing care, not just hearing aids?
  • Do they include assistance and training on the solutions in technology?
  • Do they offer trial periods, warranties, and loss and damage protection on purchases?
  • Do they include follow-up care needed after the initial purchase?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you can be confident you are in the right place for your hearing care. If you’re unsure, we invite you to come visit us at AUDIO-LOGIC, PC, where good vibrations are guaranteed.

Nora L. Fuchs, Au.D.