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.
What Does an ENT do?
ENTs deal with anything that has to do with the head, neck, and ears in adults and children, including:
Education and Training
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. The first 2 years include primarily classroom instruction. Third- and fourth-year medical students do rotations in a variety of specialties to get a wide range of experience and learn what they would like to focus on after graduating.
After graduating from medical school, ENT hopefuls do 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:
Reasons to See an ENT
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 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.
An ENT is different from an audiologist. Audiologists are not doctors. They’re medical professionals who help people with tools like hearing aids and hearing protection devices. So you may see an ENT to get your hearing problem diagnosed and then see an audiologist to get fitted for hearing aids.
A lump in your neck
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 lead to a problem with bones in the face, or bedwetting.