If you’ve noticed an issue with your ears or hearing, you might not know where to turn. Asking around, or looking on Google, you might find that several medical professionals focus on either the ears or hearing, most commonly Audiologists, and Ear, Nose and Throat specialists. How do you know which professional to see about your problem? It can be difficult to know. Should you see an Audiologist or an ENT?

Before discussing which professional to see, let’s take a look at what they do.

What is an Audiologist?

An Audiologist is a healthcare professional specializing in hearing and (often) balance. In South Africa, an Audiologist must hold a minimum of a 4-year bachelor’s degree in Audiology and must have completed a year of community service before they can practice independently. In South Africa, an Audiologist is not a doctor, although some may have completed a Ph.D. and hold that title! Audiologists in this country are classified as allied healthcare workers, on the same sort of level as a physiotherapist or speech and language therapist.

An Audiologist’s primary focus is on the sensation of hearing. We look at how the person hears sound, and in considering this, we also take into account the structural elements of the ear, auditory pathway, and brain. We also work with a person’s lifestyle and are often involved in education, workplace issues, and family relationships, all centered around their ability to hear. Audiologists are professionals who would fit hearing aids and supply hearing rehabilitation.

What is an Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist?

An Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist, or ENT, is a specialized medical doctor, who is trained and focused on the Ear, Nose, and Throat, as well as surrounding areas. An ENT is formally known as an Otorhinolaryngologist. To become an ENT in South Africa, your doctor will have studied to become a medical doctor and completed their required internships and community service. They would have then studied further to specialize in this surgical specialization.

When it comes to the ears, an ENT looks at the physical structures and surrounding areas, and in doing this, also considers the person’s functional ability to hear. An ENT will treat any ear pathology medically, either with medication or surgically, and will assess and monitor your response to this treatment.

So, should I see an Audiologist or an ENT?

An ENT and an Audiologist often work together as they both have a role in managing a person with ear or hearing issues. However, sometimes a case is purely ENT and doesn’t need an audiologist, and vice versa. This is why it can be tricky for a person to know which professional to see first.

When to go to the Audiologist first:

If you find it difficult to hear in certain situations, or you become aware of difficulty hearing certain people, your first step is probably to see the audiologist. If the change has been gradual, or you’ve been aware of it for a while, the best place to start is with a hearing test, that your audiologist will perform. Also, if you already have hearing aids, and you aren’t coping well with them, go straight to your audiologist. The audiologist will check your ears for any structural issues, and refer you to the ENT if needed, but they will likely want a hearing test first anyway, so the audiologist is a good place to start.

When to go to the ENT first:

If you become aware of any pain or discomfort in your ears, or if you notice anything unusual coming out of your ears, head to the ENT first. This includes any fluid, pus, or blood. Also, see the ENT first if anything has become stuck in your or your child’s ears- do not attempt to remove it yourself as you can cause further damage! If your hearing has changed suddenly, especially if it’s as a result of a knock to the head, or if you’ve been sick, see the ENT immediately. Your ENT may well refer you to an audiologist for a hearing test, but if there is an infection or injury to the ear, they might want to try and get that under control first.

If you aren’t sure whether you should see an audiologist or an ENT, seeing either professional will be a step in the right direction. They will be able to refer you to the appropriate professional if needed. Remember that while these two professionals each have distinct roles, they often rely on each other to fill in the rest of the picture, and give you the best possible care for your hearing difficulty.

To find an audiologist in your area, visit www.audiologysa.co.za

To find an ENT specialist in your area, visit www.entsociety.co.za

If you have any questions, please contact us, or comment below.