What is an Audiologist?

January 20, 2021

What is an Audiologist?

You may have come across several different professional terms, including Audiologist, ENT, and Hearing Instrument Specialist, if you are in the early stages of treating your hearing loss. While all of them are interested in the ears, they have distinct differences.

To learn more, let's first examine what an Audiologist does.

What is an Audiologist?

Two roots make up the term audiology: audio and logy. 'Audio' corresponds to 'hearing' and 'logy' to 'the analysis of.' Therefore, 'Audiology' is the study of hearing - the arm of science devoted to hearing and balance.

Audiologists are health care providers who assess, diagnose, treat, and handle hearing loss and balance disorders. The wellbeing of your whole auditory and vestibular system is what audiologists are really concerned about. The vestibular system involves the inner ear and brain components that help regulate your balance and eye movements.

Audiologists work in many different settings, including:

● Hospitals
● Clinics  
● Private practices
● ENT offices
● Universities
● K-12 schools
● Government
● Military
● Veterans' Administration (VA) hospitals

A short history of Audiology

People have been studying hearing loss and its causes for thousands of years. But only since the 1920s, when technology was mature enough to design the first audiometers to test hearing, did Audiology as a profession begin taking off. The term "Audiology" was not used until 1946, when service members returned from overseas during World War 2 with hearing loss from noise exposure. As the field progressed further, it became mandatory in 2007 to earn a doctorate in audiology to become an Audiologist.

What does it take to become an Audiologist?

A Doctoral Degree or Doctorate in Audiology (AuD) is required for any new Audiologist. This post-graduate degree usually takes four years to complete. The majority of students who are accepted to AuD programs have a communication sciences and disorders undergraduate degree.

In addition to being licensed by their state, there are voluntary certifications which help to increase one's prominence and trustworthiness in the profession. According to Healthy Hearing, these include the Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from the American Speech and Hearing Association (ASHA) and Board Certification from the American Board of Audiology (ABA). Licensure is mandatory in all 50 states, while these certifications are purely voluntary. Continuing Education is required annually to maintain Licensure & Certification

Many Audiologists, however, still end up specializing in a particular field of Audiology, such as balance disorders, tinnitus, or noise sensitivity disorders. Still, they fully understand every aspect of how humans hear when they are finished with their training. But once they have their qualification, the work doesn't end - all are expected to undergo continuing education annually to maintain their Audiologist certification.

Audiologists and Hearing Instrument Specialists (HIS): What's the difference?

The main difference between an Audiologist and a Hearing Instrument Specialist is the amount of education needed. To become an Audiologist, Audiologists are expected to go through eight years of schooling. On the other hand, a Hearing Instrument Specialist only requires

1. A high school diploma (in most states)
2. An assessment period where they work with another Hearing Instrument Specialist or Audiologist.
3. A state exam to be certified in the state they plan to work in.

Some Hearing Instrument Specialists become Board Certified (BC-HIS) to show additional competency in their field since some have no formal education in Hearing Instrument Sciences.

Should I choose an Audiologist or a Hearing Instrument Specialist?

Because the requirements to become a HIS are much less stringent, their knowledge extends only to the fitting of hearing aids. As such, when it comes to hearing loss and balance disorders, their knowledge is more limited. That's not to suggest, though, that they wouldn't be ideal for your specifications - if you just need a hearing aid, there is sure to be a Hearing Instrument Specialist out there who would work great for you.

If you are unsure of which one to go for, choose the provider who follows Best Practices.  Best Practices are a list of comprehensive procedures that must be followed to Maximize performance outcomes with hearing aids.  

Moreover, the type of hearing loss you are diagnosed with will decide which type of hearing aids are required for you. If you are unsure about your hearing loss level and nature, it may be a better idea to choose an Audiologist due to their more extensive education and training.

Audiologists are the most versatile experts in hearing healthcare. They can provide you with the treatment and services you need, whether you are struggling with hearing loss, balance issues, or tinnitus.

Audiologists and ENTs: What's the difference?

It is important to note that ENTs are medical physicians, unlike Audiologists, which means they have been to medical school. This education qualifies them to treat specific ear, nose, and throat-related medical conditions. By contrast, an Audiologist specializes only in hearing loss and associated conditions, such as tinnitus or balance disorders.

Should I see an Audiologist or an ENT?

You should first see an Audiologist if you have had trouble following conversations. To assess whether you are struggling with hearing loss, he or she will administer a hearing test. If the Audiologist identifies a medical problem with your ears, they will possibly refer you to an ENT.

If, on the other hand, you have pain or swelling in your ears, it's better to see your doctor or go directly to an ENT specialist. If the ENT doctor finds that you have no infection or medical condition but thinks that the problem may be hearing loss, he or she will refer you to an Audiologist.

It's important to remember that more than 90% of hearing loss cases are non-medical, meaning you are more likely to consult with an Audiologist than an ENT if you have hearing issues.

Learn more about the Audiologists, Dr. Cliff Olson and Dr. Bryce Altus.

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