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Otorhinolaryngology Specialist Doctor
A ENT (Ear, Nose, and Throat) doctor (or Otorhinolaryngology specialist) is a doctor whose specific expertise is in dealing with health problems in the ears, nose, and throat. Anatomically, the three of them are related to one another. The middle ear and the back of the nose are linked via the eustachian tube, which transfers air from outside to the middle ear, while the nasal and throat cavities are linked through the nasopharynx.
Since the ear, nose, and throat are all connected, it requires the expertise of a doctor who has a deep understanding of how to diagnose and treat diseases that may potentially interfere with the function of one or all three.
In order to pursue a career as an ENT specialist, one will need to complete his/her Master’s education in Otorhinolaryngology, a branch of medicine that studies the ears, nose, and throat and how to deal with them medically. Not only that, but ENT specialist doctors must also understand how to treat health problems in the head, neck, mouth, sinuses, and voice box (larynx). Otorhinolaryngology is among one of the oldest medical specialties in the United States.
Subspecialties of Otorhinolaryngology
To become a specialist in Otorhinolaryngology, it takes 4 years of general practitioner education, followed by at least 5 years of specialist education. Certain otorhinolaryngologists take 1-2 years of subspecialty education, thereafter sub-specialising in the following areas:
- Allergy sub-specialty: focuses on treating ENT cases related to allergies caused by pollen, animals, and food.
- Plastic and reconstructive surgery sub-specialty: focuses on dealing with facial and nose surgeries, whether due to accidents, birth defects, or cosmetic surgery.
- Head and neck sub-specialty: focuses on treating various problems such as tumors in the nose, sinuses, mouth, and throat, voice box, or upper esophagus.
- Laryngology sub-specialty: focuses on dealing with diseases or injuries that occur in the larynx and vocal cords, as well as difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Otology and neurotology subspecialty: focuses on treating problems such as hearing loss, ear infections, dizziness, or ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Paediatric ENT sub-specialty: focuses on treating ENT problems in children. Doctors who study this sub-specialty have specific expertise in getting information from children in order to find out the problems they have. Common cases include ear infections, tonsillitis, asthma, allergies, or defects in the head and neck.
- Rhinology sub-specialty: focuses on treating problems in the nose and sinuses, such as sinusitis, nose bleeds, nasal congestion, and loss of smell.
- Sleep disorder sub-specialty: focuses on dealing with sleep problems along with respiratory problems, such as snoring and sleep apnea.
Diseases Treated by Otorhinolaryngologists
To find out more information on the diseases and problems that are usually treated by ENT doctors (or Otorhinolaryngology specialists) below is a more in-depth explanation, classified into 3 categories: ear disorders, nose disorders, and throat disorders.
- Balance disorder, which is usually characterized by dizziness. This disorder may be caused by labyrinthitis, which is an infection or inflammation in the inner ear. Balance disorder may also be caused by Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) or Meniere’s disease which usually comes with problems such as hearing loss, ringing in the ears, and feeling of fullness in the ear. In order for an otorhinolaryngologist to determine the cause of the balance disorder, the patient will be recommended a physical examination, hearing test, and other necessary examinations.
- Ear infections, this problem arises due to germs entering the ear. It not only occurs in the outer ear but can also occur in the middle ear. Common symptoms of an ear infection include pain, impaired hearing, fever, or ear discharge.
- Hearing loss or deafness, this problem may occur due to conductive disorders (disorders in the outer or middle ear), sensorineural (involving the inner ear), or a combination of both. Hearing loss may also be caused by advancing age, exposure to loud noise, a tumor, or earwax buildup. If the hearing loss is too severe, the doctor may recommend cochlear implant surgery.
- Sinusitis, a nose problem caused by inflammation or swelling that occurs in the sinus cavity tissue. Colds, allergic rhinitis, nasal polyps, and nasal septum deformities are common factors for this disorder.
- Allergies, a problem that is usually characterized by symptoms of sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy and watery eyes. This condition may occur when the immune system overreacts to allergens in the air such as dust, mites, mold, animal dander, certain foods, insect stings, or medications.
- Olfactory disorders, this disorder refers to a loss in the ability to smell or a change in the way odors are perceived that may be caused by head injuries, nasal polyps, olfactory nerve damage, flu, or side effects of medication.
- Laryngitis, a swelling occurring in the laryngeal wall that causes hoarseness, throat pain and discomfort at the front of the neck. An otorhinolaryngologist will generally recommend a patient to do voice therapy and reduce caffeine and alcohol consumption.
- Nasopharyngeal cancer, a cancer that appears in the tissue of the back wall of the nose or throat. This type of cancer shows several symptoms such as sore throat, lump in the neck or throat, difficulty swallowing, difficulty speaking, difficulty breathing, and nosebleeds.
- Diphtheria, this disorder is characterized by a sore throat, swollen neck, fever, and weakness. Normally caused by a bacterial infection.
- Inflammation of the tonsils (tonsillitis), swelling of the tonsils (lumps on both sides of the back of the throat) caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Tonsillitis is characterized by throat pain, swollen and reddened tonsils, painful swallowing, a white or yellow coating on the tonsils, swollen neck, fever, and bad breath. If tonsillitis persists and worsens, surgery may be recommended to overcome the difficult problems in swallowing and breathing.
In addition to the disorders and diseases mentioned above, an otorhinolaryngologist can also treat other diseases including sleep apnea, snoring, palate disorders, and cleft lip.
Medical Procedures That Can Be Performed By an Otorhinolaryngologist
An otorhinolaryngology specialist can examine patients, make diagnoses, and provide treatment related to health problems occurring in the ear, nose, and throat.
Given the complexity of the organs treated, below are some medical procedures that an otorhinolaryngologist can perform to further examine and treat a patient with ENT disorders:
This examination is to assess the patient’s hearing ability and help diagnose deafness.
This technique is used for examining the upper part of the esophagus by inserting a flexible tube with a camera on the end into the mouth and then moving it down the esophagus to see the condition within and find any disorders in the throat.
- Endoscopic sinus surgery
To diagnose and treat sinuses, your doctor will insert a small binocular tube into your nasal passages.
In paediatric patients, a common tonsillectomy procedure is performed to cut and remove the tonsils from the throat
A surgical procedure to correct the position of the nasal septum or remove obstruction in the respiratory tract.
This procedure is performed by providing an alternative airway in the trachea to clear up blocked airways.
A tympanomastoidectomy surgery needs to be done for reconstructing and removing cholesteatoma found in the middle ear. In this surgery, the doctor will remove any abnormal or damaged tissue due to infection in the mastoid bone area behind the ear. This procedure also helps repair eardrums and hearing bones
- Surgery for head and neck cancer
Otorhinolaryngology specialists also have the capability of executing operations to remove lumps or tumors in the neck and head area.
When to See an Otorhinolaryngologist?
When you encounter mild symptoms of ear, nose, or throat disorders, you may go check in with a general practitioner first. However, if you feel that you need special treatment and need a second opinion for the diagnosis of the disease, then you are recommended to immediately consult with an Otorhinolaryngologist or ask for a referral from a general practitioner.
However, if there is an emergency condition, you are strongly advised to see a specialist immediately. Some of the symptoms experienced during emergency conditions include:
- Severe nasal blockage or obstruction, making it difficult to breathe
- Reduced sense of smell
- Continuous ear ringing or buzzing
- Reduced hearing sensitivity
- Difficulty swallowing and sore throat
- Pain in the ear, nose, or throat area
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