Hearing doctor: Types and when to see one (2023)

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Hearing doctors specialize in diagnosing and treating hearing conditions. The various types of hearing doctors focus on different specialties, so they must complete different training programs.

(Video) What Is An Audiologist? | The Hearing Doctor

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Some hearing doctors help people choose the right hearing device for their hearing condition, while others work with people experiencing hearing loss or balance issues.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of hearing loss should contact a hearing professional as soon as possible.

This article describes when people should see a doctor for hearing loss and explains the differences between the types of hearing doctors.

Hearing loss can sometimes be temporary, but permanent problems with hearing often develop as people age.

Possible causes of hearing loss include:

  • exposure to loud noises
  • ear infections
  • earwax accumulating or hardening
  • a ruptured eardrum

People who experience signs of hearing loss should see a hearing specialist. These healthcare professionals can give a diagnosis and form a treatment plan.

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) states that individuals with hearing loss may experience the following:

  • difficulty understanding conversations in a loud environment
  • tinnitus, which refers to ringing in the ears
  • asking others to repeat what they have just said
  • turning up the TV volume

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that people with a family history of hearing loss that is not associated with noise exposure should have regular hearing checkups. These individuals may have a higher chance of developing hearing loss.

People who take certain medications should also have regular hearing checkups. Ototoxic medicines can result in hearing loss, loss of balance, or ringing in the ears. These medicines include:

(Video) The Progression of Hearing Loss & When to See a Doctor

  • certain antibiotics, such as gentamicin (Garamycin)
  • anticancer medicines, such as cisplatin (Platinol) and carboplatin (Paraplatin)
  • certain pain medications that contains salicylate, such as aspirin, quinine, and loop diuretics

Learn more about hearing loss here.

Different types of doctors can help people with hearing loss. These professionals include:


Audiologists are medical professionals with a master’s degree, a clinical doctorate, or a research-based doctorate in audiology. They are licensed to diagnose and evaluate hearing loss and other related conditions, such as balance disorders and tinnitus.

According to the American Academy of Audiology (AAA), audiologists can treat almost every type of hearing loss, including:

  • Hearing loss due to ototoxicity: This type occurs when a person experiences hearing loss or loss of balance as a result of using certain medications.
  • Hidden hearing loss: People may have difficulty understanding what others are saying. It is important to see a hearing specialist because this form of hearing loss is not detectable on standard hearing tests.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This occurs when the hair follicles in the cochlea become damaged due to loud noise exposure. People may also develop sensorineural total deafness if they experience head trauma or have an inner ear infection or a congenital anomaly.

Some audiologists may specialize in pediatrics and balance disorders. Audiologists may also give people advice and information on cochlear implants or hearing aids and offer follow-up visits.

Audiologists who fit hearing devices provide further support, such as adjusting the devices and giving people advice on handling and fitting. They may also continue checking a person’s hearing after fitting a hearing device to ensure that the product is meeting their needs.

Hearing instrument specialists

A hearing instrument specialist (HIS) can test a person’s hearing and fit hearing aids. These hearing professionals are licensed and must study for at least 2 years before practicing. They also help individuals find the right hearing solution for their needs.

An HIS can help with:

  • taking ear impressions
  • repairing damaged hearing aids
  • fitting and maintaining hearing aids
  • designing and preparing earmolds


An otolaryngologist is a medical doctor specializing in diseases and disorders in the ears, nose, and throat. For this reason, people often call them ear, nose, and throat surgeons (ENTs). They treat conditions that affect the ears, balance system, and base of the skull.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) states that some of the conditions that an ENT can treat include:

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  • Hearing loss: This can occur due to long-term exposure to loud noise. It can also develop after a person has a stroke, tumor, or head injury.
  • Acute otitis media: A bacterial or viral infection can cause this inflammation behind the eardrum or middle ear.
  • Chronic sinusitis: When mucus accumulates in the nasal passages, it can result in inflammation and swelling. People may also have difficulty breathing through the nose.

A person may visit an otolaryngologist if they have:

  • an ear infection
  • ear pain or discharge
  • ringing in the ears
  • problems affecting the throat, head, and neck

Otologists and neurotologists

Otology and neurotology are subspecialties of otolaryngology.

Whereas otologists focus on issues related to ear anatomy and hearing, neurotologists treat neurological conditions that affect the ears.

Neurotologists specialize in inner ear conditions, including skull base tumors and balance disorders. They can also provide people with implantable hearing devices, such as cochlear implants and bone conduction hearing aids.

Educational audiologists

Educational audiologists are audiologists who work within the school system.

The AAA states that educational audiologists may make recommendations to support individuals in the classroom. For example, these professionals ensure that hearing devices and assistive technologies are effective in helping students with hearing loss access information in class.

According to the Outreach Center for Deafness and Blindness, educational audiologists may also refer families to speech-language pathologists and ENTs.

Once a hearing doctor diagnoses a hearing condition, several treatment options and assistive techniques may reduce the effects of hearing loss.

Sign language

Sign language is a particular mode of communication that people with hearing loss may find beneficial.

Individuals in the United States may learn American Sign Language (ASL), which is a complete language that people can use to communicate with others.

(Video) A Great Trick To Improve Your Hearing! Dr. Mandell

Sign languages may vary among people from different areas. For example, some people may use British Sign Language or a mix of different sign languages.

Children with hearing loss whose parents or caregivers also have hearing loss may learn ASL or another sign language the same way another child may learn a spoken language. People who have hearing loss later in life and children whose parents or caregivers do not have hearing loss can learn to sign with help from their peers.

Hearing aids

A hearing doctor may recommend the use of a hearing aid. These devices amplify sounds and limit background noise, which may help a person hear more clearly.

There are several different types of hearing aids, some of which may be more suitable for certain degrees of hearing loss.

Learn more about the different types of hearing aids here.

Various companies manufacture hearing aids. Some companies may offer these devices for sale online, whereas others supply hearing aids to hearing doctors.

Individuals and hearing doctors may consider some of the following hearing aid brands:

  • Eargo: This company offers three rechargeable models of hearing aids for sale online. These devices may suit individuals with mild-to-severe hearing loss. People can also purchase hearing aid accessories, such as domes, fibers, and a wax guard replacement tool.
  • Lively: This company manufactures and sells hearing aids that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved. These devices, which include rechargeable and battery-powered models, use Bluetooth technology and are available in different colors.
  • MDHearingAid: This company manufactures and sells medical grade hearing aids that come with different features and may suit individuals with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
  • Phonak: Phonak makes hearing aids that are only available through a hearing professional. These devices are suitable for first-time wearers and those looking to upgrade their devices. The company also manufactures wireless accessories, such as remote controls and neck loops.

Cochlear implants

A hearing doctor may recommend cochlear implants. These hearing devices have an external part that sits behind the ear and an internal part that a surgeon places underneath the skin.

A person can only have a cochlear implant if an audiologist or another hearing doctor considers them a suitable candidate. People with severe hearing loss may find cochlear implants more beneficial than other hearing devices. Rather than amplifying sound, cochlear implants directly stimulate the auditory nerve.

Learn more about how cochlea implants differ from hearing aids here.


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There are different types of hearing doctors who diagnose and treat hearing conditions. They attend various training programs, and some are also able to fit and manage hearing aids.

People who have a family history of hearing loss and those experiencing hearing loss symptoms or issues with their balance should see a hearing specialist. Hearing doctors may recommend different treatments depending on the severity of the symptoms.


When should I see an ENT or audiologist? ›

While an audiologist can help you to manage hearing loss, an ENT doctor can provide treatments and even surgery, in some cases, to resolve medical issues. They will also treat bacterial and viral infections like strep throat or tonsillitis.

What are the 4 types of hearing problems? ›

While hearing loss can range from mild to profound, there are four classifications that all hearing losses fall under. The four types of hearing loss are sensorineural, conductive, mixed (sensorineural and conductive) and auditory neuropathy spectrum disorder (ANSD).

What is the best doctor for hearing loss? ›

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.

What is the difference between a hearing specialist and an audiologist? ›

While a hearing aid specialist is limited to providing the right hearing aid support, an audiologist can complete a deep dive into a hearing issue. For instance, they will be able to offer an evaluation and diagnosis of a hearing issue. Hearing problems can be caused by a range of medical issues.

What is the difference between an ENT and an otolaryngologist? ›

An ENT is an ear, nose, and throat specialist. “Otolaryngologist” is just another word for the same medical specialty. The only difference is that ENT is easier to remember and to pronounce. ENT specialists (otolaryngologists) diagnose and treat conditions of the interconnected head, nose, and throat systems.

Can audiologist diagnose inner ear problems? ›

An audiologist can either diagnose or rule out possible inner ear issues, or other reasons for dizziness. After obtaining a diagnosis, an audiologist can provide some balance rehabilitation (vestibular rehabilitation), or may refer you to a physical therapist or occupational therapist for ongoing rehabilitation.

What are the 3 early signs of hearing damage? ›

If you have any of these signs or symptoms, you may have hearing loss caused by noise:
  • Speech and other sounds seem muffled.
  • Trouble hearing high-pitched sounds (e.g., birds, doorbell, telephone, alarm clock)
  • Trouble understanding conversations when you are in a noisy place, such as a restaurant.

What are the 3 things that can cause hearing damage? ›

Causes of hearing loss include:
  • Damage to the inner ear. ...
  • Gradual buildup of earwax. ...
  • Ear infection and abnormal bone growths or tumors. ...
  • Ruptured eardrum (tympanic membrane perforation).
Apr 16, 2021

What are four sounds that can damage your ears? ›

Noise-induced hearing loss can affect people of any age and, it is estimated that it affects about 15 percent of Americans.
  • MP3 player/mobile devices at maximum volume. ...
  • Music festival or concert. ...
  • Home Improvement Equipment. ...
  • Balloons. ...
  • Gardening equipment.
Jun 29, 2017

What are 3 types of treatment for hearing loss? ›

Options include:
  • Removing wax blockage. Earwax blockage is a reversible cause of hearing loss. ...
  • Surgical procedures. Some types of hearing loss can be treated with surgery, including abnormalities of the eardrum or bones of hearing (ossicles). ...
  • Hearing aids. ...
  • Cochlear implants.
Apr 16, 2021

What type of hearing loss Cannot be treated? ›

Sensorineural Hearing Loss

It can be a result of aging, exposure to loud noise, injury, disease, certain drugs or an inherited condition. This type of hearing loss is typically not medically or surgically treatable; however, many people with this type of loss find that hearing aids can be beneficial.

Should I see an ENT or audiologist for tinnitus? ›

If you are suffering from tinnitus, hyperacusis, misophonia, or other common hearing afflictions, visiting an experienced audiologist at a local hearing center will be your best recourse. Audiologists are trained to identify these issues and many have chosen to specialize in treating these symptoms.

Will an audiologist remove ear wax? ›

ENTs (ear, nose, and throat specialists) and audiologists are both qualified to remove ear wax in their office.

Can you self refer to an audiologist? ›

If you have concerns about hearing or balance, H.R. 4056 will allow you to visit any audiologist of your choosing without needing to go through a primary care physician first.

Why would you need an otolaryngologist? ›

You would see one if you have a problem involving: An ear condition, such as an infection, hearing loss, or trouble with balance. Nose and nasal issues like allergies, sinusitis, or growths. Throat problems like tonsillitis, difficulty swallowing, and voice issues.

What will an ENT specialist look for? ›

You'll treat conditions that affect the senses such as hearing and balance disorders or smell and taste problems. You'll also treat patients with conditions that affect their voice, breathing and swallowing as well as those with head and neck tumours. ENT has possibly the widest range of operations of any speciality.

What are signs of inner ear problems? ›

Check if you have labyrinthitis
  • dizziness or feeling that everything around you is spinning (vertigo)
  • feeling unsteady and off balance – you might find it difficult to stay upright or walk in a straight line.
  • feeling or being sick.
  • hearing loss.
  • ringing in your ears (tinnitus)

What is the most common inner ear disorder? ›

Common inner ear balance disorders include: Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), also known as positional vertigo, is a dizzy or spinning sensation in your head, and is the most common type of vertigo.

What are the symptoms of inner ear imbalance? ›

  • Sense of motion or spinning (vertigo)
  • Feeling of faintness or lightheadedness (presyncope)
  • Loss of balance or unsteadiness.
  • Falling or feeling like you might fall.
  • Feeling a floating sensation or dizziness.
  • Vision changes, such as blurriness.
  • Confusion.

Why does my ear feel clogged but no wax? ›

Allergies, head colds, pregnancy, and air pressure are some common reasons it may feel like your ears are full. Typically, plugged ears settle after a few days. Decongestants and nasal sprays are the best treatment for plugged ears that allergies and head colds cause.

What is the first thing to go with hearing loss? ›

The first thing you should do is contact your family doctor/GP or a hearing health care professional to have your ears examined and your hearing tested. In some cases, an ENT doctor can also examine your ears and your hearing.

At what age do you start losing your hearing? ›

An age-related hearing loss typically occurs in our sixties and seventies and develops gradually as we age. Statistically we all start to lose our hearing when we are in our 40s. One adult in five and more than half of all people over the age of 80 suffer from hearing loss.

What are the 5 levels of hearing loss? ›

We've put our heads together to create this accessible guide on the subject so you have the information you need.
  • Stage 1: Mild hearing loss.
  • Stage 2: Moderate hearing loss.
  • Stage 3: Moderately severe hearing loss.
  • Stage 4: Severe hearing loss.
  • Stage 5: Profound hearing loss.
  • Treating hearing loss.

What is the first symptom of permanent hearing damage? ›

Common signs include: difficulty hearing other people clearly and misunderstanding what they say, especially in noisy places. asking people to repeat themselves. listening to music or watching TV with the volume higher than other people need.

What causes hearing loss to get worse? ›

Hearing loss can get worse over several years. Loud noise. The blare of power tools, airplanes, or loud music on headphones, for example, can damage the hair cells in the cochlea. How much hearing you lose depends on the volume of the sound and how long you were around it.

What damages your hearing the most? ›

Loud noise is particularly harmful to the inner ear (cochlea). A one-time exposure to extreme loud sound or listening to loud sounds for a long time can cause hearing loss. Loud noise can damage cells and membranes in the cochlea.

What type of noise is the highest risk for hearing loss? ›

A whisper is about 30 dB, normal conversation is about 60 dB, and a motorcycle engine running is about 95 dB. Noise above 70 dB over a prolonged period of time may start to damage your hearing. Loud noise above 120 dB can cause immediate harm to your ears.

What is the hardest sound to hear? ›

Consonants such as “s,” “h,” and “f,” which have higher frequencies and are harder to hear. Because consonants transmit the majority of the meaning in speech, it would only make sense that those with high-frequency hearing loss have trouble following conversations.

What level of hearing loss requires a hearing aid? ›

According to the HHF, a hearing specialist may suggest a hearing aid starting with the second level of hearing loss, moderate hearing loss. With moderate hearing loss, you have difficulty hearing sounds quieter than 41 decibels to 55 decibels, such as a refrigerator humming or normal conversation.

How can I fix my hearing loss naturally? ›

Unfortunately, curing a hearing loss naturally is not currently possible. To restore hearing, intervention is generally required. This could be in the form of hearing aid devices. In some cases, surgical intervention can help restore hearing.

What exercises improve hearing? ›

A number of simple hearing exercises have been suggested by audiologists to improve hearing care.
  • Exercises for improving hearing health. Some people just recoil at the word "exercises'! ...
  • 1.Sound Focus through meditation. ...
  • 2.Sound Therapy. ...
  • 3.Singing in the Shower. ...
  • 4.Take Vocal Lessons. ...
  • 5.Aural Rehabilitation.
Feb 20, 2017

What is the latest treatment for hearing loss? ›

A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that can help improve the hearing of people with severe, irreversible hearing loss. Although a cochlear implant does not restore normal hearing, it can allow a person to hear and understand more speech than was possible with a hearing aid.

Can you stop hearing loss from progressing? ›

If you do have hearing loss, you should take steps to keep it from getting worse. Avoid noisy places whenever possible. Use earplugs, protective ear muffs, or noise-canceling headphones when around loud noises. Keep the volume down when listening through earbuds or headphones.

What happens if you don't treat hearing loss? ›

When you don't treat hearing loss, those areas of the brain normally responsible for interpreting sound have little or nothing to do. They eventually shrink or atrophy, making them even less able to perform their intended function. It's the classic 'use it or lose it' syndrome.

What are the disadvantages of an audiologist? ›

Cons of Audiology
  • Long length and high cost of education. Becoming an audiologist takes many years of education—and lots of money. ...
  • Conditions of the ear can be delicate to diagnose and treat. ...
  • Working with very young children or the very elderly.

What are the different types of audiologists? ›

10 types of audiology careers
  • Clinical audiologist. A clinical audiologist examines patients to diagnose their hearing, balance or ear-related problems. ...
  • Pediatric audiologist. ...
  • Educational audiologist. ...
  • Humanitarian audiologist. ...
  • Forensic audiologist. ...
  • Corporate audiologist. ...
  • Audiology assistant. ...
  • Hearing aid specialist.
Aug 4, 2021

Are Costco audiologists certified? ›

The employees at the Costco Hearing Aid Centers are not all licensed and trained audiologists. However, some hearing centers do employ audiologists as part of their staff. If you need to see an audiologist, you should call ahead to verify that there will be an audiologist on staff on the day of your visit.

Is it better to see an ENT or audiologist for tinnitus? ›

If you are suffering from tinnitus, hyperacusis, misophonia, or other common hearing afflictions, visiting an experienced audiologist at a local hearing center will be your best recourse. Audiologists are trained to identify these issues and many have chosen to specialize in treating these symptoms.

Can ENT detect hearing loss? ›

An ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist, or otolaryngologist, is the best specialist to diagnose causes of hearing loss. Depending on your degree of hearing loss, type of hearing loss, and other medical factors, you may benefit from a hearing aid.

Can an audiologist remove ear wax? ›

ENTs (ear, nose, and throat specialists) and audiologists are both qualified to remove ear wax in their office.


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