What Is a Pediatric Otolaryngologist?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 22, 2022
4 min read

Pediatric otolaryngology is the specialty of medical and surgical treatment of ear, nose, and throat (ENT) issues in children from newborns to the age of 17. If your child has a complex medical issue or needs surgery involving their ears, nose, or throat, you may be referred to a pediatric otolaryngologist for treatment. 

Most pediatric otolaryngologists have extensive training beyond medical school to provide ENT services to children. 

Pediatric otolaryngologists are licensed medical doctors who have completed the following training after their four years of medical school: 

  • Surgical internship of at least one year
  • Residency in general surgery for at least one year
  • Residency training in otolaryngology and head and neck surgery for at least three to four years
  • Often fellowships (training with an established specialist) in pediatric otolaryngology at large children's hospitals 

A pediatric ear, nose, throat doctor will treat conditions of the ears, nose, and throat that can affect your child's airway, voice, hearing, speech, and sinuses. Some of the issues pediatric otolaryngologists treat include: 

Hearing loss. There are three main types of hearing loss

  • Sensorineural, which is hearing loss associated with loss of function in the inner ear or with the connection to the brain
  • Conductive hearing loss, which is hearing loss associated with a problem with sound waves being transmitted from the outer or middle ear to the inner ear
  • Mixed hearing loss, which occurs when there's damage to the outer, middle, or inner ear or the auditory nerve

Otitis media. Otitis media is a middle ear infection that is common in children. If your child has a lot of ear infections or an abnormality in their ear, they may need to see a pediatric otolaryngologist. 

Cochlear implant surgery. Children with severe hearing loss may benefit from cochlear implant surgery. A cochlear implant is a small electrical device that stimulates the cochlear nerve, which is the nerve for hearing that sends impulses to the brain. It can help people with very little or no hearing understand noises and speech. 

Nasal obstruction. A nasal obstruction is when there is a blockage of the nasal passages or difficulty breathing from the nose. It can have many causes, such as: 

  • Colds and flu
  • Sinus or adenoid infections
  • Allergic or non-allergic rhinitis
  • Nasal polyps
  • Large adenoids
  • Nasal cysts or tumors
  • Deviated nasal septum 

Tonsillitis. If your child has recurrent tonsil infections or sore throat, they may be referred to a pediatric otolaryngologist for treatment such as a tonsillectomy. 

Sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea is a sleep disorder that causes your child to stop breathing briefly while they're sleeping. It's caused by a blockage in the upper airway. Most children with this condition snore. The most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea in children is enlarged tonsils or adenoids.

Nasal problems. Pediatric otolaryngologists treat a range of other nasal problems, such as: 

  • Chronic runny nose
  • Smell and taste disorders
  • Nosebleeds
  • Sinusitis

Vocal cord problems. Your child may need to see a pediatric ENT if they have vocal cord problems, including: 

  • Vocal cord dysfunction
  • Vocal cord paralysis
  • Vocal cord lesions 

Dysphagia.Dysphagia is trouble swallowing food or liquids. Swallowing problems may happen suddenly because your child has something stuck in their throat. They may also develop swallowing problems following an infection. 

Head and neck disorders. Pediatric otolaryngologists treat many disorders of the head and neck, including: 

  • Tumors or masses on the thyroid
  • Masses in the head and neck
  • Facial paralysis
  • Masses in the salivary glands
  • Hemangiomas, which are masses of blood vessels that are often called birthmarks
  • Lymph node masses or diseases

Although children can be treated by general otolaryngologists, pediatric otolaryngologists have more experience treating children. They are also more likely to have experience treating children with complicated disorders than general otolaryngologist are. 

When your child is in pain, you want the best possible treatment for them. Children aren't just mini-adults, so pediatric otolaryngologists have been trained to deal with the anatomical, emotional, and intellectual issues that are specific to children. Children often can't describe their symptoms or tell exactly what's bothering them. They aren't able to answer medical questions the way adults can. Pediatric otolaryngologists understand this and have experience examining children in a way that puts them at ease. 

Because they only treat children, pediatric otolaryngologists have their offices designed and equipped especially for them. Their offices usually contain child-friendly decor and furnishings. Their waiting room and examination rooms are designed with children in mind and have toys, books, and entertainment options geared for children. This can help make your child feel more comfortable and decrease their anxiety. Sitting in a chair or exam table designed for adults can be uncomfortable and intimidating for children. 

Pediatric otolaryngologists are accustomed to communicating with children. They understand children's behavior and anxieties, so they won't be caught off-guard when your child refuses to cooperate. Because of their experience, they are likely to know how to interact with your child in a way that will encourage their cooperation. 

The experience your child has with a pediatric otolaryngologist may not always be pleasant, particularly if they have to have surgery or another difficult procedure, but they will handle it better if they're in a friendly and welcoming environment.