If you have a health problem with your head or neck, your doctor might recommend that you see an otolaryngologist. That's someone who treats issues in your ears, nose, or throat as well as related areas in your head and neck. They're called ENT's for short.
In the 19th century, doctors figured out that the ears, nose, and throat are closely connected by a system of tubes and passages. They made special tools to take a closer look at those areas and came up with ways to treat problems. A new medical specialty was born.
What Conditions Do Otolaryngologists Treat?
ENT's can do surgery and treat many different medical conditions. You would see one if you have a problem involving:
- An ear condition, such as an infection, hearing loss, or trouble with balance
- Nose and nasal issues like allergies, sinusitis, or growths
- Throat problems like tonsillitis, difficulty swallowing, and voice issues
- Sleep trouble like snoring or obstructive sleep apnea, in which your airway is narrow or blocked and it interrupts your breathing while you sleep
- Infections or tumors (cancerous or not) of your head or neck
Some areas of your head are treated by other kinds of doctors. For example, neurologists deal with problems with your brain or nervous system, and ophthalmologists care for your eyes and vision.
How Are ENT Doctors Trained?
Otolaryngologists go to 4 years of medical school. They then have at least 5 years of special training. Finally, they need to pass an exam to be certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology.
Some also get 1 or 2 years of training in a subspecialty:
- Allergy: These doctors treat environmental allergies (like pollen or pet dander) with medicine or a series of shots called immunology. They also can help you find out if you have a food allergy.
- Facial and reconstructive surgery:These doctors do cosmetic surgery like face lifts and nose jobs. They also help people whose looks have been changed by an accident or who were born with issues that need to be fixed.
- Head and neck:If you have a tumor in your nose, sinuses, mouth, throat, voice box, or upper esophagus, this kind of specialist can help you.
- Laryngology:These doctors treat diseases and injuries that affect your voice box (larynx) and vocal cords. They also can help diagnose and treat swallowing problems.
- Otology and neurotology:If you have any kind of issue with your ears, these specialists can help. They treat conditions like infections, hearing loss, dizziness, and ringing or buzzing in your ears (tinnitus).
- Pediatric ENT: Your child might not be able to tell their doctor what's bothering them. Pediatric ENTs are specially trained to treat youngsters, and they have tools and exam rooms designed to put kids at ease.
Common problems include ear infections, tonsillitis, asthma, and allergies. Pediatric ENT's also care for children with birth defects of the head and neck. They also can help figure out if your child has a speech or language problem.
- Rhinology: These doctors focus on your nose and sinuses. They treat sinusitis, nose bleeds, loss of smell, stuffy nose, and unusual growths.
- Sleep medicine: Some ENT's specialize in sleep problems that involve your breathing, for instance snoring or sleep apnea. Your doctor may order a sleep study to see if you have trouble breathing at times during the night.
How Do I Find an Otolaryngologist?
Ask your primary care doctor or go to the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery website to find one in your area. Look for one that specializes in your specific problem.