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Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders

What is an Otolaryngologist?

Overview

An ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT) is a physician trained in the medical and surgical treatment of the ear, nose, throat and related structures of the head and neck. They have special expertise in managing diseases of the ear, nose and nasal passage, sinuses, larynx (voice box), oral cavity and upper pharynx (mouth and throat), as well as structures of the neck and face. ENT is the oldest medical specialty in the United States.

The Ear

The unique area of the ear, nose and throat specialist is treatment of ear disorders. This includes medical and surgical treatment for hearing disorders, ear infection, balance disorders, facial nerve or cranial nerve disorders, as well as management of congenital (birth) and cancerous disorders of the outer and inner ear.

The Nose

Care of the nasal cavity and sinuses is one of the primary skills of the ENT specialist. Management of disorders of the nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, allergies, sense of smell, and nasal respiration, as well as the outer appearance of the nose are part of an ENT's area of expertise.

The Throat

Also specific to the ENT specialty is expertise in managing diseases of the larynx (voice box) and the upper aerodigestive tract or esophagus, including disorders of the voice, respiration (breathing), and swallowing.

The Head and Neck

In the head and neck area, an ENT specialist is trained to treat infectious diseases, tumors (both benign and malignant/cancerous), facial trauma, and deformities of the face. They perform both cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery.

An ENT specialist may work with a team of doctors in other medical and surgical specialties. Common ground is shared with neurosurgery in treating skull base disorders; plastic surgery in correcting cosmetic and traumatic deformities; ophthalmology in treating structural problems near the eye; oral surgery in treating jaw and dental trauma; allergy in managing sinus disease; dermatology in caring for skin cancers; oncology in managing head and neck cancers; and pediatrics and family practice in caring for common infectious, congenital, traumatic, and malignant (cancerous) diseases and disorders in the pediatric and general population.

Training

An ENT specialist is ready to start practicing after as much as 15 years of college and post-graduate training. To qualify for certification from the American Board of Otolaryngology, an applicant must first complete college, medical school (usually four years), and at least five years of specialty training. Next, the physician must pass the American Board of Otolaryngology examination to be certified. Some ENT specialists pursue a one-or two-year fellowship for more extensive training in one of the seven subspecialty areas. These include pediatric otolaryngology (children), otology/neurotology (ears and balance), allergy, facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, head and neck surgery, laryngology (throat) and rhinology (nose). Some ENT specialists limit their practices to one of these seven areas.

The well-trained ENT specialist has a thorough knowledge of all of the organs and physical structures in the head and neck region. Virtually all ear, nose, and throat specialists routinely handle adenoidectomies (surgical removal of the adenoid glands), tonsillectomies (removal of the tonsils), nosebleeds, earaches, hearing loss, dizziness, hoarseness, and sinus disease. The type of practice that an ENT specialist decides to pursue is based largely on his/her qualifications and attitudes, as well as the community's needs. The broad challenges of the specialty allow a choice of direction, in addition to providing the best in patient care.

The Seven Areas of Expertise

Otology/Neurotology

Medical and surgical treatment of diseases of the ear, including traumatic and cancerous disorders of the external, middle, and inner ear, as well as the nerve pathways which affect hearing and balance.

Pediatric Otolaryngology

Medical and surgical treatment of diseases of the ears, nose, and throat in children.

Head and Neck Area

Medical and surgical treatment of cancerous (and noncancerous tumors in the head and neck including thyroid and parathyroid (located close to the thyroid gland) surgery.

Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

Treatment of cosmetic, functional and reconstructive abnormalities of the face and neck.

Rhinology

Medical and surgical treatment of disorders of the nose and sinuses.

Laryngology

Medical and surgical treatment of disorders of the throat, including the voice.

Allergy

Medical treatment of inhalant allergies affecting the upper respiratory system.

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Last Reviewed: Mar 31, 2006

David  L Steward, MD David L Steward, MD
Professor of Otolaryngology
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati

Keith M Wilson, MD Keith M Wilson, MD
Associate Professor of Otolaryngology, Director of Head and Neck Division
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati