Otolaryngology (pronounced oh/toe/lair/in/goll/oh/jee) is the oldest medical specialty in the United States. Otolaryngologists 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. They are commonly referred to as ENT physicians.
Otolaryngologists diagnose and manage diseases of the sinuses, larynx (voice box), oral cavity, and upper pharynx (mouth and throat), as well as structures of the neck and face. Many ENTs care for problems in both children and adults.
The Ears — Hearing and balance are critical to how we conduct our daily lives. ENT specialists treat conditions such as ear infection, hearing loss, dizziness, ringing in the ears (called tinnitus), ear, face, or neck pain, and more. Otolaryngologists also manage congenital (birth) disorders of the outer and inner ear.
The Nose — Our noses facilitate breathing by keeping out potentially harmful dirt, allergens, and other agents. Care of the nasal cavity and sinuses is one of the primary skills of otolaryngologists. About 35 million people develop chronic sinusitis each year, making it one of the most common health complaints in America. In addition to allergies, ENT specialists treat deviated septum, rhinitis, sinusitis, sinus headaches and migraines, nasal obstruction and surgery, and more.
The Throat — Disorders that affect our ability to speak and swallow properly have a tremendous impact on our livelihoods. Otolaryngologists are experts in managing diseases of the larynx and the esophagus, including voice and swallowing disorders. ENT specialists treat sore throats, hoarseness, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), infections, throat tumors, airway and vocal cord disorders, and more.
The Head and Neck — This center of the body includes important nerves that control sight, smell, hearing, and the face. The head and neck include some of our body’s most vital organs, which can be especially susceptible to tumors and cancer. In addition to cancers of the head and neck, ENT specialists treat neck masses, Grave’s disease, and enlarged thyroid glands.
Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery — Facial trauma and the change in appearance caused by an accident, injury, birth defect, or medical condition can be distressing. ENT specialists in facial plastic surgery treat cleft palates, drooping eyelids, hair loss, ear deformities, facial paralysis, trauma reconstruction, and head and neck cancer reconstruction.
Pediatrics — Children and their developing bodies often need special attention. ENT specialists treat birth defects of the head and neck, developmental delays, ear infections, tonsil and adenoid infections, airway problems, asthma, and allergies.
How are ear, nose, and throat specialists trained?
Otolaryngologists are ready to start practicing after completing up to 15 years of college and post-graduate training. To qualify for certification by the American Board of Otolaryngology, an applicant must first complete college, medical school, and at least five years of specialty training. Next, the physician must pass the American Board of Otolaryngology examination. In addition, some otolaryngologists pursue a one or two year fellowship for more extensive training in one of eight subspecialty areas.
These subspecialty areas are pediatric otolaryngology (children), otology/neurotology (ears, balance, and tinnitus), allergy, facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, head and neck, laryngology (throat), rhinology (nose), and sleep. Some otolaryngologists limit their practices to one of these eight areas.
Why should I see an otolaryngologist?
ENT specialists differ from many physicians in that they are trained in both medicine and surgery. Otolaryngologists do not need to refer patients to other physicians when ear, nose, throat, or head/neck surgery is needed. This means they can offer the most appropriate care for each individual patient.