When an audiologist is the answer

Written by Kimberly Croteau-Sparks, Au. D., Audiology, Sentara Hearing & Balance Center, Sentara Medical Group 

Dr. Croteau-Sparks
Dr. Kimberly Croteau-Sparks

Ever wonder what the difference is between an ear, nose & throat (ENT) doctor and an audiologist?  You’re not alone!  Understanding the difference between an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor and an audiologist can help patients determine where to go to address problems concerning their hearing and balance.

What is an Audiologist?

An audiologist is a healthcare professional that specializes in identifying, diagnosing, managing, and treating disorders of the auditory (hearing) and vestibular (balance) portions of the ear.  Their unique education and training provides them with the skills to assess and diagnose dysfunction in hearing, balance, and related systems of the ear.

Common reasons patients come to an Audiologist include:

  • hearing loss
  • ear infections
  • wax in the ear
  • sudden loss of hearing
  • balance problems
  • dizziness/vertigo
  • ringing/noises in the ear(s)
  • pressure of the ear(s)
  • chronic itching of the ear(s)

In addition, audiologists conduct hearing screenings, recommend and sell hearing aids and assist with rehabilitation options for vertigo/imbalance.

What kind of training does an audiologist have?

Audiology is the branch of science that studies hearing, balance, and other related disorders.  As of 2007, the entry-level degree for the profession is now a Doctorate of Audiology (Au.D. or equivalent).  This degree is the clinical equivalent to a Ph.D. and requires 3 years of academic study, 1 year of working full time in the field, and a research component (at many universities).  Every audiologist has to be licensed by the Board of Audiology, Board of Hearing Aid Dispensers (if working with hearing aids), and will have certification through the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, American Academy Audiology, or American Board of Audiology.

When would you see an ENT doctor?

An ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor is a medical doctor (MD) also referred to as an otolaryngologist who specializes in diagnosing and medically or surgically treating ear, nose and throat issues.  ENT doctors do NOT perform any comprehensive hearing or balance testing in their offices.  That’s where an audiologist comes in!  ENT doctors often work very closely with audiologists as a compliment to the care they provide.  By collaborating to diagnose and treat medical issues causing hearing and/or balance problems, patients can be sure to get the care they need.

What should you do if you have issues with your hearing or balance?

First, schedule an appointment with an audiologist for hearing and balance testing to get you a step closer to a diagnosis and recommended course of treatment.  If the audiologist finds there is a medical reason complicating or causing your hearing or balance issue, here again is where a close connection between an audiologist and ENT doctors comes into play.  As needed, the audiologist will refer you directly to an ENT doctor to make sure you get the appropriate treatment.


I’ve worked in Corporate Communications at Sentara Healthcare for the past 25 years. I am the editor of the Sentara Today blog, working behind the scenes to capture inspiring stories about our employees and patients. Currently, I am also working on Sentara Nurse, a new blog we just launched. I’ve had the opportunity to be closely involved in helping preserve our organization’s historical archives. In my spare time, when I am not blogging, I enjoy spending time with my husband and three children, reading, cooking, and practicing yoga as often as I can.

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