Ear Doctors: An Overview

Ear Doctors: An Overview
Tue, Jan 25, 22
Audientes - Article

Introduction

Ear doctors (also known as “hearing doctors”) are, broadly speaking, healthcare practitioners who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions affecting the ear, including hearing health issues.
It’s important to know that “ear doctor” can refer to several different, but related, kinds of medical practitioners: otolaryngologists (or ENTs), otologists, audiologists, neurotologists, and even hearing aid specialists.
This Audientes Insights article will provide you with an overview of the services and treatment options provided by each of these ear health specialists.

Types of ear health specialists

Otolaryngologists (ENTs)

When people say “ear doctor,” they’re usually referring to otolaryngologists. Often called “ear, nose and throat doctors” (or ENTs for short), these physicians are experts in diagnosing and treating disorders of the head and neck.

Otolaryngologists are medical doctors who have completed a four-year undergraduate degree, followed by at least four years of medical school, after which they must undergo an additional training period known as a residency. In the United States, for example, an ENT’s residency lasts between five years to eight years. All told, it can take as many as fifteen years for prospective ENTs to begin practicing medicine.

Otolaryngologists may specialize in treating adults, children or both. Otolaryngologists who specialize in ear health are known as otologists. While all otolaryngologists are able to assist you with ear health-related matters, otologists are equipped to deal with even the rarest ear diseases and hearing problems.

Another ENT specialty, known as , focuses on the relationship between the ear and the brain.  

ENTs can prescribe medicines or perform surgeries on patients to improve their ear health or hearing abilities if medications aren’t doing enough. Surgery options include using ear tubes for conductive hearing loss or reconstructing a punctured eardrum, among others.  

Before visiting your ENT

You’ll likely need a referral from a general practitioner to secure an appointment with an ENT. You’ll typically want to bring along a list of the medications you are taking. If you’re having difficulty hearing or speaking, it may be a good idea to bring a friend or family member to assist you during the visit.

What to expect during your ENT appointment

At the beginning of the appointment, your ENT will ask you how long and how often you have been experiencing symptoms (such as pain, tinnitus or dizziness). He or she may also ask if there has been any recent trauma to your head or eardrums.

The otolaryngologist may look into your ear with a small tool called an otoscope. Your ENT may also use a tuning fork to assess your hearing. A tuning fork is designed to vibrate at a specific frequency, providing an easy way for doctors to determine whether you’re able to hear that frequency with both ears.

At the end of your ENT appointment, you should have a better understanding of why you are having hearing problems, how severe they may be and what treatment options are available for you. Your ENT will likely explain all your treatment options in detail and, if necessary, schedule follow-up appointments.

Neurotologists

While ENTs treat general ear diseases and deformities, neurotologists (also known as neurotologic surgeons or skull base surgeons) specialize in the connection between the brain, nervous system and the ear.

These specialists can diagnose and treat conditions like acoustic neuromas (tumors on nerves between the ear and the brain that can affect balance and hearing). They may implant hearing devices or electrical stimulating arrays in order to treat hearing loss.

Audiologists

Audiologists are medical professionals who provide testing and treatment for individuals with hearing loss, balance disorders, tinnitus (buzzing/ringing in ears), and other ear-related issues.

Not only do audiologists perform hearing tests, but they can also work to fit patients for hearing aids or assistive listening devices. Treatment options may include the use of hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other assistive listening devices.

Audiologists are generally unable to write prescriptions or perform surgery, so if those interventions are needed, your audiologist will refer you to a specialist, such as an ENT.

For more information about audiologists, see our Audientes Insights article Audiologists: Essential Information

Hearing aid specialists

One common question for people seeking hearing healthcare is “What is a hearing aid specialist called?”

While they may be called “

These hearing care professionals provide and interpret hearing tests, such as pure tone audiometry tests, and air or bone conduction tests. They can help you to choose, fit and program hearing aids. They may also provide repair services for broken hearing aids.

Typically, hearing aid specialists must have graduated from a hearing instrument training program. These programs typically take two years, with graduates earning associates degrees.  

Summary

“Ear doctor” is a broad term used to denote medical practitioners who specialize in the treatment of conditions that affect the ears, such as chronic ear infections and hearing loss. Some examples are otolaryngologists (also called ENTs), neurotologists, and audiologists.

With so many choices available, it’s important to do your own research and choose the hearing health professional who matches your needs.

Generally speaking, if you are suffering hearing loss, and you believe it is simply age-related, you can see an audiologist. If, however, your hearing loss might have underlying medical causes (such as a disease or tumor), you should schedule an appointment with an ENT.

 

 

Otolaryngologist (ENT)

Audiologist

Hearing Aid Specialist

Years of Education

11-15

4-8

2

Medical Doctor

Yes

No

No

Provides Hearing Aid Fitting

No

Yes

Yes

Prescribes Medication

Yes

No

No

Performs Surgery

Yes

No

No

 

 

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