Should I See an Audiologist or ENT for Hearing Loss?

tinnitus hearing loss
A customer shouldn't have to scream to be heard.

Connecting to the world around you through sound is an integral part of life. Hearing loss can be concerning and encompass a range of symptoms. Whether hearing loss onset is sudden or gradual, seeking medical attention quickly is essential.

We’ll help you decide whether an ENT or audiologist is best suited for your needs when you are experiencing hearing loss.

What Is an Audiologist?

An audiologist is a health care provider with a doctor of audiology degree. (AuD) specializing in hearing loss. They can diagnose and treat hearing loss conditions, whether mild or severe. They can also help you prevent further hearing loss through various treatment methods.

These professionals generally prescribe and fit hearing aids or other assistive devices, but the treatment administered depends on the type of hearing loss, as is the recommended type of hearing device.

Here are some of the hearing loss types that an audiologist is certified to treat:

  • Noise-induced hearing loss – Loud noises can cause hearing loss, either gradually or suddenly. Audiologists treat this condition by fitting hearing aids or other auditory assistive devices. They may also assist people with cochlear implants.
  • Sensorineural hearing loss – Sensorineural hearing loss is often a product of aging, although some conditions can cause a sudden onset of sensorineural hearing loss. An audiologist may help the affected person find a suitable assistive device for their needs.
  • Ototoxicity – Some medications and drugs are harmful to the ears and may cause hearing loss. Audiologists are uniquely qualified to identify and treat cases of ototoxicity.

What Does an Audiologist Do?

An audiologist takes on the following roles:

  • Performing hearing loss evaluations
  • Diagnosing hearing loss
  • Prescribing hearing aids or other assistive devices

It’s important to note that audiologists don’t perform surgery or directly prescribe medication; instead, they will physically examine the ears and perform some auditory tests to determine the extent of the issue, if present. If a problem with an apparent surgical solution presents itself, they will likely recommend you to an ENT or otologist.

If the hearing loss can be treated nonsurgically, the physician will discuss the problems with you, identify potential solutions, and suggest a course of action. 

When to See an Audiologist

An audiologist might be your first stop if you suspect you are experiencing hearing loss, particularly if you find yourself doing any of the following:

  • Repeatedly asking those around you to repeat information
  • Feeling as though you aren’t speaking loudly enough
  • Having trouble hearing in noisy environments
  • Feeling as though there is constant noise in your head or ears

What Is an ENT?

An ENT, sometimes called an otolaryngologist, is a healthcare professional with a licensed degree to practice medicine and at least 5 years of residency in their field who specializes in treating conditions that affect the ears, nose, and throat, hence the name ENT, which stands for Ear, Nose, and Throat.

ENT is a common name, although most of them prefer to go by the title “otolaryngologist” since it denotes that they treat more than just the ears, nose, and throat. Some otolaryngologists specialize in particular ear conditions; these doctors include otologists and neurotologists.

In some cases, they can perform surgeries on the head, neck, ears, mouth, throat, nose, and face. Of course, treatment isn’t always surgical. An ENT specializes in both surgical and nonsurgical approaches.

What Does an Otolaryngologist Do?

An ENT doctor can treat a wide range of conditions, overseeing diagnosis and treatment for conditions affecting the head, neck, ears, and throat. Primary care physicians refer patients to ENTs for various ailments. 

More to the point, an otolaryngologist can treat the following ear-related conditions:

  • Tinnitus – A ringing in the ears
  • Dizziness – Usually stemming from inner ear infections
  • Eustachian tube dysfunction – Blockage in the tubes that connect the middle ear to the upper throat.
  • Otosclerosis – Abnormal bone growth in the middle ear
  • Vertigo – The sensation that the surrounding area is spinning
  • Outer, middle, and inner ear infections
  • Ruptured eardrums
  • Hearing loss

When to See an Otolaryngologist

An ENT doctor can treat a range of conditions affecting the ears, nose, and throat, among other parts of the body. Your primary care physician might refer you to an ENT if you are experiencing hearing problems or have been diagnosed with an ear condition requiring surgical attention.

Which One Is Best for Hearing Loss?

While both an ENT and an audiologist deal with hearing loss, they generally provide different treatments for different causes. You always want to prioritize seeing an ENT over an audiologist if your hearing has declined rapidly or occurred suddenly. Typically, this indicates a physiological problem that may require surgery, something more in the purview of an ENT than an audiologist. 

For treatable hearing loss causes like fused inner-ear bones or a ruptured eardrum, an ENT can provide surgical and nonsurgical treatment options where appropriate.

On the other hand, an audiologist provides only nonsurgical options, making them a better pick if your hearing loss has been gradual over many years. They may perform tests to determine the cause of your hearing loss and, if applicable, prescribe the appropriate hearing aid.

Your primary care provider will have good insight into which specialist is best for your needs, helping you get swift care for your hearing loss. As mentioned, they will likely recommend you to an ENT if there is any suspicion of a physiological problem that can be treated with surgery or medication, especially if the hearing loss occurred suddenly.

On the other hand, they will recommend you to an audiologist if they ascertain that you may benefit from a hearing aid, implant, or other assistive device through a nonsurgical approach.

The Bottom Line

Hearing loss can be troubling, disconnecting you from the world around you. When that happens, knowing where to turn is important. An ENT is more suited for diagnosing emergency ear conditions that a doctor can treat with surgery or medication. In contrast, an audiologist specifically treats hearing loss by analyzing the situation and prescribing the appropriate medication. If you need help determining where to turn, consult your primary care physician for guidance on which specialist is better suited to treat your hearing loss.

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