When to See an Audiologist or an Otolaryngologist (ENT)

Audiologist or an Otolaryngologist (ENT): How to know which is right for you?

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There are many different causes and treatments of hearing loss. Sometimes it’s difficult to determine which type of hearing health professional can best handle your hearing problem.

Audiologist: A doctor of audiology (Au.D.), or an audiologist, is educated and trained to identify and treat diminished hearing and/or tinnitus and provide solutions, as well as other assistive listening devices. To put it simply, an audiologist is a hearing doctor that handles the non-medical side of hearing problems. Note: When a hearing loss might have a treatable physical cause, it is best to see and ENT.

See an audiologist when:

  • You have excessive earwax. An audiologist can remove earwax to ease problems with hearing.
  • You notice a gradual decrease in hearing. If you have problems with hearing that are gradual in nature and not associated with pain, a comprehensive evaluation by a doctor of audiology can thoroughly examine the type and degree of hearing loss and offer solutions.
  • You ask to have things repeated. Having to frequently ask people to repeat things can be embarrassing, and this discomfort means that people often ignore this sign of hearing loss or try to cover it up.
  • You’re unable to understand in crowds. Not being able to hear what people are saying in a crowded restaurant or room is typically a sign of hearing loss best treated with a hearing aid.
  • You can’t hear women’s or children’s voices. Women and children speak in a higher register, so one of the first signs of hearing loss is the inability to hear these higher pitched voices. If you consistently feel that women or children are mumbling, you should see an audiologist.
  • You experience tinnitus. A ringing or buzzing in the ears that can be high pitched, intermittent, or constant is generally associated with hearing loss issues best handled by an audiologist.
  • You’re unable to hear high-pitched sounds. A phone ringing, a child’s cry, and the trill of a bird are all high-pitched sounds that can begin to fade as a person develops hearing loss.

Otolaryngologist: An otolaryngologist, or ENT, is trained in the medical treatment and diagnoses of problems with the ear, nose, larynx (voice box), and throat, as well as the head and neck. ENT training sometimes includes two years of general surgery, allowing these professionals to perform surgery on cancers and other serious conditions arising within the ear, nose, and throat. An ENT handles the medical side of hearing issues such as tumors, Ménière’s disease, and autoimmune diseases. When a hearing loss might have a treatable, physical cause, like fused inner-ear bones or a perforated eardrum, it is best to see and ENT.

See an otolaryngologist when:

  • You have autoimmune problems. People known to have an autoimmune disease need to first be evaluated for their hearing loss by an ENT.
  • Your hearing loss may be the result of medications (ototoxicity). If the hearing loss is permanent, then an audiologist will be referred.
  • You experience balance and dizziness problems. Any balance issues or bouts of dizziness that may or may not be related to movement of the head require medical evaluation.
  • You have otosclerosis (fused bones). Hardening within the ear can be a sign of bone growth that is impeding or fusing the normal movement within the ear. This may be best handled through surgery.
  • You experience ear pain. Any ear pain is a sign that a medical professional needs to be consulted.
  • You have head/ear trauma. In order to ensure that trauma to the ear is not correctible through surgery or other means, an ENT should be seen.
  • You experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL). Often those with SSHL cannot be aided by traditional medical intervention, and hearing aids will be needed. But before this step, those with SSHL need to be evaluated medically to rule out the existence of a serious medical condition or the possibility of treatment with steroids.

If you have questions, please feel free to call our office at 765.608.3277 (EARS) for more information.

About Sherry Hodge, Au.D., FAAA, TPA
Sherry Hodge received her master’s degree in audiology at Ball State University and completed her doctorate degree through AT Still University. Dr. Hodge is certified by the Tinnitus Practitioner’s Association (TPA) in tinnitus evaluation and management, and she is a member of the American Academy of Audiology (AAA) and the Academy of Doctors of Audiology. Prior to opening her private practice 14 years ago, she was the Director of Audiology for 15 years at Community Hospital Anderson. Advanced Hearing Care is dedicated to improving the quality of life for our patients and their families by using the latest hearing and tinnitus technology, patient education, customized hearing solutions, and the highest standards of care while maintaining compassion for all. We truly believe hearing well improves the overall quality of life.