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Where Should I Purchase My Hearing Aids?

Audiologist vs Dispenser vs ENT Physician

If you’re in the market for hearing aids, you can buy them from a variety of places, including a doctor of audiology, an ear, nose and throat doctor (ENT) or a hearing aid dispenser in a big box store or other retail location. But just as all hearing aids are not the same, neither are the places where you might buy one. Here are some of the differences between audiologists, ENTs and dispensers, so you can make sure that you are being served by the person who can help you the best.


  • Hearing aid dispensers must have a dispensing license, which can be obtained after writing a state exam. But they are not required to have an education in audiology or hearing loss.

  • Because a dispenser is not educated in dealing with hearing loss, they don’t have all the tools to match hearing aids to particular hearing needs.

  • Digital hearing aids have complex technology, with as many as 100 separate adjustments. Technology changes rapidly, and dispensers can have a hard time keeping up with all the changes.

  • Dispensers are often employed by retail chains (Wal Mart, Costco)  and big box stores looking for additional revenue streams, and use different names, including:

  • Hearing Instrument Specialist (HIS)

  • Hearing Aid Specialist

  • Certified Hearing Aid Specialist

  • Board Certified Hearing Instrument Specialist (BC-HIS)

  • Audioprosthologist

  • Hearing Aid Dispenser

Hearing Aid
Photo credit: Michigan ENT


  • An audiologist is the highest-trained individual in the diagnosis, testing, evaluation and rehabilitation of non-medical hearing loss – that is, hearing loss that is not associated with a disease.

  • Audiologists entering the field today are required to have a Doctorate of Audiology, which includes four years of undergraduate study followed by four years in a doctoral program.

  • An audiologist may recommend an over-the-counter medication, but doesn't perform surgery or prescribe medication. If an audiologist sees a patient who has any indication of disease, such as inflammation, infection, bleeding or a perforated eardrum, they will refer the patient to an ENT before beginning the process of hearing rehabilitation with hearing aids.

  • Some audiologists are self-employed in their own private practices. Others work with ENTs, in schools, or other institutions where their skills and expertise in diagnosing and treating hearing loss are required.

Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor (ENT)

The formal term for an ear, nose and throat doctor is “Otolaryngologist- Head and Neck Surgeon” but the name is often shortened to simply ENT. This type of medical doctor holds an undergraduate degree, a medical degree (an MD or DO) from an accredited university, and has completed five to six years of residency training.


An ENT specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and disorders of the ear, nose, throat, and related structures of the head and neck. ENTs can further specialize in unique areas including allergies, sinus conditions, treatment of inflammation or disease of the larynx, head and neck cancers and the management of ear diseases. And because they are medical doctors, ENTs can prescribe medications. ENT doctors are uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat all diseases of the ear, including hearing loss, ringing in the ears, dizziness and balance disorders. Many patients with complaints of hearing loss have reversible causes, like wax buildup, foreign object, ear infection, fluid buildup, or referred congestion from the nose and sinuses. The ENT doctor’s primary interest is to solve the patient’s hearing problem, not to sell hearing aids. Therefore, the ENT is the best option to help the patient get to the bottom of the cause of hearing loss and to direct the treatment plan according to what is in the patient’s best interests.

Ear Exam

Many ENTs hire audiologists to round out the scope of their practice. The audiologist will perform diagnostic tests of the patient’s hearing, and help diagnose ear and hearing diseases and conditions. In many ENT offices, the audiologist will perform hearing aid evaluations, dispense the appropriate hearing aids, and perform the fitting and fine-tuning adjustments. 


For patients with irreversible or age- related hearing loss, it benefits the doctor and the patient to have an audiologist on hand. The audiologist is experienced in dealing with cases of impaired hearing, and can help those patients whose main concern is hearing loss.

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