Who’s who in the hearing healthcare profession
So – you’ve had some issues with your hearing lately and want to make sure you pick the right professional to help you resolve them. Which one do you choose? And what do all those letters behind their name mean, anyway? Glad you asked! Here’s a quick breakdown of who is who in the hearing healthcare profession!
What this means: ENT stands for ear, nose and throat. These medical professionals are physicians trained in the medical and surgical treatment of the ears, nose, throat and related structures of the head and neck. You may also hear them called otolaryngologists.
Special training: ENT is the oldest medical specialty in the United States. A specialist is ready to start practicing after 15 years of college and postgraduate training, which includes medical school and five years of specialty training. The physician must also pass the American Board for Otolaryngology examination to be certified. Some even pursue a one- or two-year fellowship in one of the seven specialty areas: pediatric otolaryngology, otology/neurotology (ears and balance), allergy, facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, head and neck surgery, laryngology (throat) and rhinology (nose).
What they do for your hearing: Because an ENT is a licensed medical doctor, they can perform surgery – such as cochlear implant surgery – and treat medical problems of the ear such as ear infections or earaches.
What this means: Doctor of audiology. Audiology is the science of hearing. Before the Au.D. became the standard clinical degree for the profession in 2007, audiologists were required to complete a master's degree in audiology. Because the older degrees were grandfathered in, there are still many practicing audiologists today who hold a master's degree.
Special training: Audiologists who earn their Au.D. complete many years of graduate study at an accredited college. These hearing healthcare professionals are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing and balance problems. Because they have studied the science of hearing, they know how hearing loss happens and what the long-term affects of untreated hearing loss are on your life.
What they do for your hearing: Audiologists can diagnose and treat hearing loss, including cleaning the ear canal, installing and programming cochlear implants, and fitting hearing aids. Although they cannot perform surgery, they are trained to identify medical issues and refer these patients to an ENT or otolaryngologist.
What this means: hearing instrument specialist
Special training: These hearing healthcare professionals must be high school graduates and, depending on state requirements, have completed additional training at a technical school or college. Most of these certifications are two-year programs; many states also require graduates pass a state licensing exam in order to practice.
What they do for your hearing: Hearing instrument specialists conduct and analyze tests to determine the extent and nature of your hearing loss, then dispense hearing instruments designed to address the symptoms. They provide education on how to use the hearing aid, maintain the devices and also help with auditory rehabilitation.
What this means: hearing aid specialist
Special training: This is another name for a hearing instrument specialist. The nomenclature varies from state to state.
Hearing healthcare professionals must be licensed by the state in which they practice. In addition to state licensure, many professionals seek additional certifications to help them deliver the best care for their patients. Here are abbreviations for some of the most recognized certifications.
BC-HIS: Board Certified in Hearing Instrument Sciences
CCC-A: Certificate of Clinical Competence in Audiology. This certification is awarded by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA).
FAAA: Fellow of the American Academy of Audiology. This indicates that an audiologist is a member of the Academy.
ABA: American Board of Audiology. This board certification is awarded by the American Academy of Audiology (AAA).
Now that you know, there’s no excuse. Choose which professional best suits your needs, have your hearing tested and follow their advice. Hearing loss is the third most common physical ailment in the United States, trailing arthritis and heart disease. You have more to lose if you ignore your hearing loss – think poorer communication with family and friends, increased risks for Alzheimers and Dementia, and loss of critical pathways in the brain – than you do if you seek treatment.