Otolaryngologist: Your Ear, Nose & Throat Specialist
What is an otolaryngologist?
An otolaryngologist (pronounced “ōtō-lar-en-gäl-e-jest”), or ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor, specializes in the medical and surgical care of the ears, nose and throat, and conditions affecting the head and neck. Otolaryngologists diagnose and treat a variety of health conditions including infections, cancer, and hearing and speech problems in both adults and children. An otolaryngologist typically:
Evaluates a patient's medical history and educates the patient about disease prevention
Performs exams of the ear, nose, throat, head and neck
Performs hearing and speech screenings
Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests and prescribes medications
Diagnoses and treats acute and chronic diseases and conditions that affect the ears, nose, throat, and head and neck, including sinus and ear infections, problems with the larynx (voice box), swallowing problems, and thyroid cancer
Who should see an otolaryngologist?
Any adult or child who is experiencing symptoms affecting the ears, nose, throat, head or neck should seek care from an otolaryngologist. This includes breathing and swallowing problems; hearing loss and speech difficulties; pain affecting the ear, nose or throat; and lumps or growths in the mouth or neck.
Otolaryngologists are trained in medicine and surgery and do not typically need to refer patients to other doctors when ear, nose, throat, head or neck surgery is needed.
When should you see an otolaryngologist?
Consider seeking care from an experienced otolaryngologist if you develop any of the following symptoms or conditions:
Allergy symptoms including itchy eyes, nose and throat, with nasal congestion or discharge
Displeasure with the appearance of your nose, ears or face
Lump or bump in the neck, mouth, throat, nose or ears
Snoring and poor sleep
Stuffy nose, difficulty breathing, facial pain, loss of smell, and nosebleeds
What conditions and diseases does an otolaryngologist treat?
An otolaryngologist treats conditions and diseases including:
Ear conditions including ear infections, hearing loss, balance disorders, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), cholesteatoma (abnormal skin growth in the ear), benign (noncancerous) growths, and congenital disorders and deformities of the outer and inner ear
Head and neck conditions including tumors of the parotid, thyroid and parathyroid glands; sialoadenitis (inflammation of the salivary gland); sleep apnea; and facial irregularities or deformities
What tests does an otolaryngologist perform or order?
An otolaryngologist can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests including:
Biopsies including removal of tissue from the thyroid, salivary glands, and other areas of the head and neck
General health tests including physical exam of the ear, nose, throat and neck; blood tests; bacteria cultures including group A Streptococcus; and allergy patch skin test
Hearing and speech evaluations including audiography, auditory brainstem response (ABR), and electrocochleography (ECOG)
Imaging tests including X-rays and computed tomography (CT) scans
Sleep studies including polysomnogram (PSG)
What procedures and treatments does an otolaryngologist perform or order?
Otolaryngologists order or perform various procedures and treatments to manage ear, nose, throat, and head and neck conditions. Otolaryngologists are trained in both medical and surgical treatments. Common procedures and treatments include:
Airway procedures including bronchoscopy and tracheotomy
Allergy treatments including education, medication, and immunotherapy (allergy shots)
Cosmetic surgery including rhinoplasty (“nose job”), otoplasty (pinning the ears back), and surgical reconstruction
Ear surgery including cochlear implants, myringotomy (tiny incisions in the eardrum to relieve pressure, also called ear tube surgery), and tympanoplasty (reconstruction of the eardrum and middle ear)
Endocrine surgery including surgery of the thyroid gland and parathyroid glands
Esophagus and pharynx treatments including esophageal resection, pharyngectomy, and GERD treatments including medication, lifestyle changes, and surgery
Larynx (voice box) procedures including voice therapy, phonosurgery (surgery to correct voice or sound production), and laryngectomy (removal of the larynx)
Nasal treatments including medication, balloon sinuplasty, and septoplasty (straightening of the nasal septum)
Otolaryngologist training and certification
A doctor may practice otolaryngology without becoming board certified in the specialty. However, education, training, experience and certification are key elements in establishing a doctor’s level of competence. Board certification verifies that a doctor has completed residency training in the specialty and has passed competency examinations.
A board-certified otolaryngologist has earned certification in otolaryngology by the American Board of Otolaryngology or the American Osteopathic Board of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.
A board-certified otolaryngologist has:
Graduated from medical school or a college of osteopathic medicine, earning an MD or DO degree
Completed specialized residency training in otolaryngology
Passed a certification exam that validates the doctor’s specialized knowledge and skills in otolaryngology
Doctors who earn board certification in otolaryngology can pursue certification in a subspecialty. Board certification requires additional training beyond the residency program, as well as passing an exam. The additional training is sometimes known as a fellowship
. Otolaryngology subspecialties include:
Neurotology focuses on the management of diseases and conditions affecting the inner ear, temporal bone, and skull base including tumors.
Otolaryngic allergy focuses on all aspects of otolaryngic allergy including immunology, allergy testing, and desensitization. This certification is available through the American Osteopathic Board of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery.
Pediatric otolaryngology focuses on the care of infants and children with disorders that affect the ear, nose, throat, head and neck.
Plastic surgery within the head and neck or facial plastic surgery focuses on plastic and reconstructive procedures within the head, face and neck.
Sleep medicine focuses on the diagnosis and management of conditions that affect sleep, such as obstructive sleep apnea.
Allergies focuses on diagnosing, treating and managing patients with ear, nose and throat conditions related to allergies.
Audiology/Otology focuses on speech and hearing conditions.
Laryngology focuses on voice and swallowing disorders.
Rhinology focuses on diseases and conditions that affect the nose and sinuses.