Individuals looking for hearing loss treatment face a number of challenges, including medical terms that may be unfamiliar and categories of health care professionals that may seem confusing. For instance, what is the difference between an audiologist and a hearing instrument specialist?

Audiologists, Hearing Aid Dispensers, and Ear, Nose, and Throat Physicians — What Is the Difference?

The types of hearing care professionals you might encounter in seeking help with your hearing loss differ in both their education and their skills.

Audiologists and Doctors of Audiology
Audiologists are primary health care professionals who evaluate, diagnose, treat, and manage hearing loss and balance disorders in adults and children. Audiologists have a master’s degree or doctorate from an accredited university. This correlates to six to eight years of higher education and over 2,000 supervised clinical hours. Audiologists work in a variety of settings, including clinics, private practices, ENT offices, universities, K-12 schools, and civilian, government, military, and VA hospitals.


  • Complete comprehensive audiological evaluations, including tests of hearing sensitivity, speech understanding in quiet, speech understanding in noise, uncomfortable loudness levels, middle ear function, inner ear function, and auditory nerve function
  • Evaluate and diagnose hearing loss and vestibular (balance) disorders
  • Refer to ear, nose, and throat physicians or primary care physicians as needed
  • Prescribe, fit, verify, and dispense hearing aids
  • Assess need for alternative assistive listening devices
  • Evaluate and manage individuals with tinnitus (ringing in the ear)
  • Perform ear- and hearing-related surgical nerve monitoring
  • Design and implement hearing-conservation programs
  • Design and implement newborn-hearing screening programs
  • Provide hearing-rehabilitation training such as auditory training and listening-skills improvement
  • Assess and treat individuals with auditory processing disorders
  • Manage all types of hearing loss in patients of all ages, ranging from newborns through seniors
  • Design, select, install, and monitor classroom amplification systems

Hearing Aid Dispensers
Hearing aid dispensers (hearing aid dealers, hearing instrument specialists) are individuals who are licensed to complete basic hearing tests and sell hearing aids to adults. Hearing aid dispenser requirements vary by state. In Pennsylvania, a hearing aid dispenser must have a high school diploma, complete six months of supervised training, and pass a written test. They may work in private practices or clinics.

Hearing Aid Dispensers:

  • Conduct basic hearing tests for the purpose of selling hearing aids
  • Prescribe, fit, and dispense hearing aids to adults

Ear, Nose, and Throat Physician (ENT, Otolaryngologist)
Ear, nose, and throat physicians are physicians trained in the medical and surgical management and treatment of patients with diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat (ENT), and related structures of the head and neck. In regard to the ear, ENTs are trained in both the medical and surgical treatment of hearing loss, ear infections, balance disorders, tinnitus, and some cranial nerve disorders. They also manage congenital (birth) disorders of the outer and inner ear.