If you or a family member might have hearing loss, consult a qualified health professional for early and appropriate care. Several types of professionals can help. Each has a different type of training and expertise, and each can be an important part of your hearing health care.
You may want to start by talking with your primary care provider. He or she will likely give you a medical exam to see if an infection, injury, or other condition (such as a buildup of ear wax) might be causing your hearing loss. Your primary care provider might then refer you to an otolaryngologist or other hearing health provider for more specific tests and treatment.
Listed below are the types of professionals who can help you with hearing loss.
A primary care provider is a physician, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant who provides general health care to patients by identifying and treating common medical conditions. Primary care providers often refer patients to medical specialists when necessary. Types of primary care providers include family practitioners or general practitioners, pediatricians, geriatricians, and internists.
An otolaryngologist (oh-toe-lair-in-GAH-luh-jist) is a physician who provides medical and surgical care, diagnosis, and treatment of the ear, nose, throat, and neck. Sometimes called an ENT, an otolaryngologist will work with you to find out why you’re having trouble hearing and offer specific treatment options. He or she might also refer you to another hearing professional, such as an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist, to receive a hearing test and be fitted for a hearing aid.
An audiologist (aw-dee-AH-luh-jist) has specialized training to test your hearing and identify the type and degree of hearing loss. Audiologists are not physicians, but they have a doctor of audiology graduate degree (Au.D.), which typically requires four years to complete after earning a bachelor’s degree. They must also pass an exam and complete a clinical fellowship. Audiologists are licensed to fit and dispense hearing aids; they can also work with you and your family to adapt to hearing loss and determine which devices, including hearing aids, would be most helpful.
A hearing instrument specialist, also known as a hearing aid specialist, is a state-licensed professional who conducts basic hearing tests, fits and dispenses hearing aids, and educates individuals and their family members about their hearing loss. The licensure requirement varies among states; most states require completing a 2-year apprenticeship.