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Hearing doctors specialize in diagnosing and treating hearing conditions. The various types of hearing doctors focus on different specialties, so they must complete different training programs.
Some hearing doctors help people choose the right hearing device for their hearing condition, while others work with people experiencing hearing loss or balance issues.
Anyone experiencing symptoms of hearing loss should contact a hearing professional as soon as possible.
This article describes when people should see a doctor for hearing loss and explains the differences between the types of hearing doctors.
Hearing loss can sometimes be temporary, but permanent problems with hearing often develop as people age.
Possible causes of hearing loss include:
People who experience signs of hearing loss should see a hearing specialist. These healthcare professionals can give a diagnosis and form a treatment plan.
The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) states that individuals with hearing loss may experience the following:
- difficulty understanding conversations in a loud environment
- tinnitus, which refers to ringing in the ears
- asking others to repeat what they have just said
- turning up the TV volume
People who take certain medications should also have regular hearing checkups. Ototoxic medicines can result in hearing loss, loss of balance, or ringing in the ears. These medicines include:
- certain antibiotics, such as gentamicin (Garamycin)
- anticancer medicines, such as cisplatin (Platinol) and carboplatin (Paraplatin)
- certain pain medications that contains salicylate, such as aspirin, quinine, and loop diuretics
Different types of doctors can help people with hearing loss. These professionals include:
Audiologists are medical professionals with a master’s degree, a clinical doctorate, or a research-based doctorate in audiology. They are licensed to diagnose and evaluate hearing loss and other related conditions, such as balance disorders and tinnitus.
According to the American Academy of Audiology (AAA), audiologists can treat almost every type of hearing loss, including:
- Hearing loss due to ototoxicity: This type occurs when a person experiences hearing loss or loss of balance as a result of using certain medications.
- Hidden hearing loss: People may have difficulty understanding what others are saying. It is important to see a hearing specialist because this form of hearing loss is not detectable on standard hearing tests.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: This occurs when the hair follicles in the cochlea become damaged due to loud noise exposure. People may also develop sensorineural total deafness if they experience head trauma or have an inner ear infection or a congenital anomaly.
Audiologists who fit hearing devices
Hearing instrument specialists
A hearing instrument specialist (HIS) can test a person’s hearing and fit hearing aids. These hearing professionals are licensed and must study for at least 2 years before practicing. They also help individuals find the right hearing solution for their needs.
An HIS can help with:
- taking ear impressions
- repairing damaged hearing aids
- fitting and maintaining hearing aids
- designing and preparing earmolds
An otolaryngologist is a medical doctor specializing in diseases and disorders in the ears, nose, and throat. For this reason, people often call them ear, nose, and throat surgeons (ENTs). They treat conditions that affect the ears, balance system, and base of the skull.
The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) states that some of the conditions that an ENT can treat include:
- Hearing loss: This can occur due to long-term exposure to loud noise. It can also develop after a person has a stroke, tumor, or head injury.
- Acute otitis media: A bacterial or viral infection can cause this inflammation behind the eardrum or middle ear.
- Chronic sinusitis: When mucus accumulates in the nasal passages, it can result in inflammation and swelling. People may also have difficulty breathing through the nose.
A person may visit an otolaryngologist if they have:
- an ear infection
- ear pain or discharge
- ringing in the ears
- problems affecting the throat, head, and neck
Otologists and neurotologists
Otology and neurotology are subspecialties of otolaryngology.
Whereas otologists focus on issues related to ear anatomy and hearing, neurotologists treat neurological conditions that affect the ears.
Neurotologists specialize in inner ear conditions, including skull base tumors and balance disorders. They can also provide people with implantable hearing devices, such as cochlear implants and bone conduction hearing aids.
Educational audiologists are audiologists who work within the school system.
The AAA states that educational audiologists may make recommendations to support individuals in the classroom. For example, these professionals ensure that hearing devices and assistive technologies are effective in helping students with hearing loss access information in class.
According to the Outreach Center for Deafness and Blindness, educational audiologists may also refer families to speech-language pathologists and ENTs.
Once a hearing doctor diagnoses a hearing condition, several treatment options and assistive techniques may reduce the effects of hearing loss.
Sign language is a particular mode of communication that people with hearing loss may find beneficial.
Individuals in the United States may learn American Sign Language (ASL), which is a complete language that people can use to communicate with others.
Sign languages may vary among people from different areas. For example, some people may use British Sign Language or a mix of different sign languages.
Children with hearing loss whose parents or caregivers also have hearing loss may learn ASL or another sign language the same way another child may learn a spoken language. People who have hearing loss later in life and children whose parents or caregivers do not have hearing loss can learn to sign with help from their peers.
A hearing doctor may recommend the use of a hearing aid. These devices amplify sounds and limit background noise, which may help a person hear more clearly.
There are several different types of hearing aids, some of which may be more suitable for certain degrees of hearing loss.
Various companies manufacture hearing aids. Some companies may offer these devices for sale online, whereas others supply hearing aids to hearing doctors.
Individuals and hearing doctors may consider some of the following hearing aid brands:
- Eargo: This company offers three rechargeable models of hearing aids for sale online. These devices may suit individuals with mild-to-severe hearing loss. People can also purchase hearing aid accessories, such as domes, fibers, and a wax guard replacement tool.
- Lively: This company manufactures and sells hearing aids that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved. These devices, which include rechargeable and battery-powered models, use Bluetooth technology and are available in different colors.
- MDHearingAid: This company manufactures and sells medical grade hearing aids that come with different features and may suit individuals with mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
- Phonak: Phonak makes hearing aids that are only available through a hearing professional. These devices are suitable for first-time wearers and those looking to upgrade their devices. The company also manufactures wireless accessories, such as remote controls and neck loops.
A hearing doctor may recommend cochlear implants. These hearing devices have an external part that sits behind the ear and an internal part that a surgeon places underneath the skin.
A person can only have a cochlear implant if an audiologist or another hearing doctor considers them a suitable candidate. People with severe hearing loss may find cochlear implants more beneficial than other hearing devices. Rather than amplifying sound, cochlear implants directly stimulate the auditory nerve.
There are different types of hearing doctors who diagnose and treat hearing conditions. They attend various training programs, and some are also able to fit and manage hearing aids.
People who have a family history of hearing loss and those experiencing hearing loss symptoms or issues with their balance should see a hearing specialist. Hearing doctors may recommend different treatments depending on the severity of the symptoms.