Otolaryngology is the branch of medicine that deals with disorders of the ear, nose and throat. Otolaryngologists, also known as ENT physicians, have been trained in the treatment, both medical and surgical, of patients with disorders of the ear, nose and throat and related problems of the head and neck. Otolaryngologists also diagnose and treat diseases of the sinuses, larynx or voice box, and mouth. Otolaryngologists must complete 13 years of training before they can qualify for board certification. Their training includes four years of college, four years of medical school and at least five years of specialty training.
Subspecialties of Otolaryngology
There are seven primary subspecialties of otolaryngology. Physicians in the field may train in one of the following and may also choose to further focus on one area of the subspecialties, such as surgical oncology of the ENT region.
Otolaryngologists who specialize in this area treat patients with ear, nose and throat sensitivities to dust, mold, pollen or pet dander with medication and allergy shots. These doctors are primarily treating seasonal allergies, chronic rhinitis, laryngitis or sinusitis, sore throat, dizziness and middle ear infections, also known as acute otitis media.
Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Otolaryngologists who become plastic and reconstructive surgeons are trained to perform operations on patients with abnormalities of the face, neck or ear. Such procedures may be done for a variety of reconstructive, cosmetic or functional reasons. Common operations performed by otolaryngologists who specialize in this type of otolaryngology are:
- Procedures to correct deviated septa
- Face lifts
- Cleft palate or cleft lip corrections
- Operations to repair drooping eyelids
- Hair replacement procedures
- Operations to correct facial deformities
Head and Neck
Otolaryngologists who specialize in the head and neck treat benign and cancerous tumors of this region, including tumors of the nose, sinuses, mouth, throat, larynx and upper esophagus, including the thyroid and parathyroid glands.
Otolaryngologists who specialize in laryngology focus their attention on disorders of the throat, concerning themselves with diagnosing and treating disorders of the voice and swallowing difficulties. Such physicians treat chronic sore throats, hoarseness, gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, and infections and tumors of the larynx.
Otologists and neurotologists specialize in diagnosing and treating disorders of the ear, including birth defects, traumatic injuries, infections, benign tumors, and nerve pathway dysfunctions affecting balance and hearing. These physicians commonly treat ear, neck or face pain, dizziness, tinnitus, swimmer's ear, ear infections and loss of hearing.
Pediatric otolaryngologists specialize in the ENT problems of children. These may include birth defects of the head and neck, developmental delays, ear infections, asthma or other airway problems, allergy or sinus disease, neck tumors or tonsil and adenoid infections.
Rhinologists specialize in diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the nose and sinuses. They commonly treat frequent nose bleeds, loss of smell, sinus problems and nasal polyps and tumors.
Common Conditions Treated by Otolaryngologists
Otolaryngologists are trained in the diagnosis and medical and surgical treatment of hearing loss whether it results from congenital defect, ear infections, balance disorders, tinnitus, a ringing in the ears, problems with balance or some disorders of the cranial nerves. Approximately 10 percent of the population is affected by hearing loss at some point in life.
Otolaryngologists are trained to treat problems of the nose which may include allergies,smell disorders and nasal obstructions due topolyps or a deviatedsepta.Otolaryngologistsalso perform rhinoplasty, a cosmetic procedure to improve the appearance of the nose.
Disorders of the Throat
The throat is a vital body part both in terms of ingestion of food and in terms of communication. Part of the specialty of otolaryngology involves a focus on the region of the throat, including the larynx and the upper section of the esophagus. This means that otolaryngologists are concerned with disorders of speech, singing and swallowing.
Disorders of the Head and Neck
Otolaryngologists are also trained in the diagnosis and treatment of certain conditions of the head and neck area, which may include the following:
- Sight, smell and hearing
- Appearance of the face
- Tumors, both malignant and benign
- Deformities of the face, such as cleft lip