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Differences between audiologists and speech pathologists examining ear

The Differences between Audiologists ENTs and Speech Pathologists

Published 16-07-2019
Last Updated 18-07-2019

There are many different types of hearing care professionals. Here are some of the ways to make sure you're finding the right one for your hearing needs. 
"Oto" is Greek for "ear." An otologist is an ear doctor. However, there are many different kinds of medical professionals that deal with conditions of the ear, including otolaryngologists, ear-nose-and-throat doctors, audiologists, neurotologists, and speech and language pathologists. 

Ear Nose and Throat School

Otolaryngologists are commonly referred to as ENT doctors or ENT physicians. The barriers-to-entry for the otology field are enormous. A board certified physician performs surgery to correct the medical conditions that occur in the ear nose and throat.

The requirements needed to become a certified otolaryngologist include one year of general surgery and at least four years of otolaryngology training. 

Daily Work of ENTs/Otolaryngologists/Neurotologists

These doctors have acquired the skills necessary to manage:

  • Sinusitis & Allergy
  • Voice and swallowing problems
  • Masses of the neck
  • Trauma to the face and neck
  • Ear infections
  • Dizziness
  • Tinnitus
  • Hearing loss
  • Other problems arising from the structures of the head and neck

Specialization in Otolaryngology

After completing residency training, these doctors must take a written and oral examination to become board certified. The American Board of Otolaryngology has the role of ensuring professional standards of training and knowledge.

Within this broad specialty, there are several subspecialties where otolaryngologists devote their time to one or two specific areas of otolaryngology.

These subspecialties include:

  • Pediatric otolaryngology (children)
  • Allergy
  • Sinus surgery
  • Facial plastic and reconstructive surgery
  • Head and neck cancer surgery
  • Laryngology (voice and swallowing)
  • Otology/neurotology
  • Skull base surgery

Otology goes hand in hand with neurotology. Neurotologists study nerves and the way that nerve damage interacts with ENT conditions like those mentioned above.

Many doctors in these subspecialties spend 1-3 years of special training in addition to the general otolaryngology training. Often, research is included in the subspecialty training and these doctors become leaders in research related to the field of otolaryngology. These doctors are more highly-specialized, and a general ENT may refer a unique case over to such a specialist, as in the case of someone with someone with Ménière's disease.

Including general training, there are other machines otologists can specialize in to advance their careers, while having the option to treat more patients. 


Audiologists work with people who have hearing, balance, and related ear problems. They examine individuals of all ages and identify those with the symptoms of hearing loss and other auditory, balance, and related sensory and neural problems. An audiologist uses a variety of tests and procedures to assess hearing and balance function to fit and dispense hearing aids and other assistive devices for hearing.  Providers have a M.S., M.A., Ph.D. or an Au.D. to practice.

Based on these distinctions, you would want to first seek out an audiologist if you have noticed a change in your hearing or if you have been struggling to understand people in day to day situations. A hearing loss can manifest itself in many ways, for instance, asking people to repeat themselves, having more trouble hearing in crowds, having difficulty with women or children’s voices, or tinnitus (a ringing in the ears). In some cases, your audiologist might choose to refer you to an ENT physician based on their exam of the ear or if you have a medical condition that could be associated with hearing loss, like an autoimmune disorder.

If the audiologist finds that your speech and language could use improvement, they will refer you to a speech pathologist. 

Speech Pathologists

Speech and language pathologists (SLPs) work with individual clients on a case by case basis. These clients have difficulties communicating or projecting their speech. They teach individuals to regain these faculties through training, vocalization, and speech control techniques. For example, an SLP will work with a hard-of-hearing child to help with language development in children. 

Audiology and ENT Office Procedure 

General practitioners, dentists, and eye doctors all recommend you come in once a year to see them. Similarly, your hearing should be checked once a year.

Audiologists can determine types and degrees of hearing loss and whether hearing aids will help. They may conduct a hearing test by playing several sounds of different frequencies with and without background noise and at various volume levels. If the test indicates hearing loss, you may be a candidate for hearing aids and a specialist will discuss hearing aid types and options. This specialist is usually someone that is licensed and certified to sell hearing aids.

An ENT can offer medical and surgical treatments that audiologists cannot. The ENT can make sure there's no medical reason, such as a tumor, for the hearing loss, and may then refer you to an audiologist. If you haven't already seen an ENT doctor, and the audiologist suspects medical problems, the audiologist will recommend seeing an ENT doctor for further evaluation.

For emergencies like ruptured eardrums, head trauma, and respiratory blockage visit an emergency hospital, 24-hour walk-in clinic, or (as last priority) an ENT clinic. See medical doctor first, in cases of ear emergencies, not an audiologist.

Facing Hearing Loss

Did you know that most individuals wait 5-7 years before they do anything about their hearing loss? Lack of information, a hesitance to adopt new technology, and a stigma surrounding hearing loss leads people to prolong things and not come in for a checkup. That’s a long time to miss out on sounds!

If you have a spouse with hearing loss, we urge you to share 18 Ways to Help a Loved One with Hearing Loss.

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