What is an ENT (Ear Nose and Throat Doctor)?

Medically Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on July 16, 2023
3 min read

An ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT) specializes in everything having to do with those parts of the body. They’re also called otolaryngologists.

Some historians believe this to be one of the oldest medical specialties in the United States. It started in the 1800s when doctors realized that a person’s ears, nose, and throat had delicately connected systems that required special knowledge. 

ENTs deal with anything that has to do with the head, neck, and ears in adults and children, including:

ENTs must first get an undergraduate degree. It can be in any subject, but topics like biology or chemistry are useful for medical school. 

Next, they must attend medical school for 4 years, followed by a 5-year residency. During this program, they learn everything about otolaryngology from more experienced doctors. 

Finally, ENTs must pass the exam for their state to become a fully licensed doctor.

Some ENTs have 1 to 2 years of training to specialize further in areas like:

You may want to see an ENT if you have:

Long-term (chronic) throat, ear, or sinus issues

Ear infections are one of the most common reasons why parents to take kids to the doctor. ENTs usually treat them with antibiotics, but if the infections keep coming back, they may recommend surgery.

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils. Again, doctors often treat it with antibiotics, but if it persists, they may recommend that you get your tonsils taken out.

Sinus problems that last more than 4 months are called chronic sinusitis. ENTs can help get to the bottom of the issue and treat the underlying problem.

Hearing loss

Hearing loss is normal as you age. But sudden hearing problems can be a sign of something more serious. Either way, an otolaryngologist will be able to figure out what’s going on and help you get any treatments you need to hear better. If you need hearing aids, your ENT may send you to an audiologist to get fitted for them. 

A lump in your neck

A lump in the neck that lasts more than 2 weeks could be a sign of mouth, throat, thyroid, or blood cancer. Cancers that start in these areas often spread to the lymph nodes in your throat first. 

A lump is different from swollen lymph nodes, which can also be a sign of a serious illness but often happen due to common conditions like strep throat or an ear infection.

A child who is a heavy snorer

Snoring is common in adults but unusual in children. It may not be a sign of a serious problem, but it's best to talk to your pediatrician about whether they recommend seeing an ENT. It may be a sign of sleep apnea, which can manifest with bedwetting or behavioral or academic problems from lack of sleep. 

Show Sources


Columbia University Department of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery: "What is Otolaryngology?"


John Hopkins Medicine: "What is an Audiologist?"

Lehigh Valley Health Network: "7 Reasons You Might Need an ENT."

Mayo Clinic: "Swollen lymph nodes."

Rochester Regional Health: "Ear, Nose & Throat Surgery."

University of Missouri Health: "ENT Health For Kids: 4 Things You Should Know."

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