What is an Audiologist?

Audiologist looking in a patient's ear.. Getty Images

Many people don't know what an audiologist is until they need one. In the United States, 28 million people are estimated to have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss can occur at any age from birth to old age. Audiologists are the professionals who diagnosis and treat hearing loss.

Educational Requirements

As of 2007, an audiologist is required to hold a doctorate from an accredited university.

There are two types of doctorate degrees an audiologist may have: an Au.D (which is a clinical doctorate) or a Ph.D. (which is a research-based doctorate). Audiologists may also be Board Certified by the American Academy of Audiology. 

Audiologists complete extensive training in the anatomy and physiology of the hearing and balance systems, genetics of hearing loss, diagnosis of hearing loss, and treatment methods. Some audiologists may specialize in treating pediatric patients, working with hearing aids, cochlear implants, or evaluating and treating people with balance disorders. Audiologists can evaluate and treat auditory processing disorders and tinnitus. They are the professional responsible for designing and implementing newborn hearing screening programs and hearing conservation programs.

Audiologists are autonomous professionals and may be found practicing in hospitals, clinics, private practice, ENT offices, schools, government or military settings, and VA hospitals.

Most hearing loss that is not medically treatable can be corrected by the use of hearing aids and assistive listening devices; audiologists can prescribe and fit these devices.

Audiologists are licensed by the state they practice in and are required to complete continuing education yearly. Audiologists are the “hearing doctors.”

How is an audiologist different from an ENT?

In contrast, an Otolaryngologist (also known as an “ENT,” which is short for Ears, Nose, and Throat) has received their medical training and specialize in diagnosing and treating diseases of the ears, nose, and throat. They are the “ear doctors”. These physicians have advanced training in medicine and surgery. An ENT doctor will treat medically-based hearing loss, such as an ear infection, trauma to the ear, or tumors in the ear. They also perform surgical procedures such as cochlear implants, bone anchored hearing aid systems, and tympanostomy tubes. Most ENT doctors will work with audiologists and refer to the audiologist for treatment when there is not a medically treatable hearing loss.

Do you have to be an audiologist to fit hearing aids?

Unfortunately, no. The other professional that works with patients with hearing loss is the HIS or hearing instrument specialist. In some states, there are licensed hearing aid dispensers. They have training in the basic hearing evaluation and basic hearing aid fitting.

A hearing aid dispenser may need to complete an apprenticeship before they are licensed.

How can I tell if the person I'm working with is an audiologist?

Always ask what the qualifications are of the professional you are seeing. After all, hearing well is an important quality of life issue; wouldn't you want the person with the most training and understanding of the hearing system to be working with you?

How can I find an audiologist?

If you suspect that you, or a loved one, have hearing loss, it is easy to find a qualified audiologist in your area.  Depending on the type of health insurance you have you may need a referral from you primary care physician for a hearing evaluation for the service to be covered.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has a directory of licensed professionals:


To search the American Academy of Audiology for a board certified audiologist:



What is an Audiologist? Audiology Awareness Campaign (n.d.) Retrieved 11/03/2015 from http://www.audiologyawareness.com/whatis.asp

What is an Otolaryngologist (n.d.). American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. Retrieved 11/03/2015 from http://www.entnet.org/content/what-otolaryngologist.

What is a hearing aid dispenser (n.d.). Healthy Hearing. Retrieved 11/03/2015 from http://www.healthyhearing.com/content/faqs/Glossary/Other/30948-What-hearing-aid-specialist.

 Updated 11/03/2015. 

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