Individuals looking for hearing loss treatment face a number of challenges, including medical terms that may be unfamiliar and categories of health care professionals that may seem confusing. For instance, what is the difference between an audiologist and a hearing instrument specialist?


Hearing Aid Specialists and other providers — What’s the Difference?

The types of hearing care professionals you might encounter in seeking help with your hearing loss differ in both their education and their skills.


Hearing Instrument Specialists

Hearing instrument specialists (or, in some states, licensed hearing aid dispensers) are health care professionals who specialize in recommending and fitting the most advanced hearing aid technology. They are trained and experienced in educating their patients on hearing loss and what devices are available to help. Hearing instrument specialists are typically up to date on the latest technology in the field — including assistive listening devices (caption call systems, amplified telephones, alarm systems, etc.) — and are experienced in performing and evaluating hearing tests.

Hearing instrument specialists must be either board-certified or licensed by the state. Most states also require an apprenticeship or a specified period of practical experience before they are licensed.


Audiologists and Doctors of Audiology

An audiologist is a licensed hearing health care professional who specializes in auditory rehabilitation, tinnitus, and balance disorders in adults and children. You can think of an audiologist primarily as a “hearing doctor.”



Otolaryngologists are physicians (M.D.s or doctors of medicine) who specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases of the ears, nose, mouth, and throat. As opposed to an audiologist, who is more like a “hearing doctor,” you can think of an otolaryngologist as an “ear doctor.” Trained in both medicine and surgery, otolaryngologists typically treat the types of profound hearing loss that require pharmaceutical or surgical treatment, like a cochlear implant. These types of hearing loss include loss caused by trauma, infection, or benign tumors in the ear.

After completing a medical course of treatment, otolaryngologists often refer patients to other providers for recommendation and fitting of digital hearing aids and other services.

No matter what type of specialist you decide to see for your hearing needs, the most important factor is the overall experience they provide, which should include a comprehensive approach to diagnosing, treating, and reevaluating your hearing. Partnering with a professional who listens to your needs is critical to the success of your treatment plan.

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