If you thought an ENT was an ancient Middle Earth race of walking, talking trees from Lord of the Rings, you could be forgiven. When it comes to medical specialties, things can get complex (and very specific). You have pediatricians (doctors specialized in children’s health), you have gastroenterologists (a doctor who specializes in the digestive system), and then you have pediatric gastroenterologists (doctors specialized in digestive diseases of children). Similarly, otolaryngology is a medical specialty, focused on diseases and disorders relating to the head and neck. You may also know otolaryngologists as ENT doctors (which is much easier to pronounce).
ENT = Ear, Nose, Throat
You got it – ENT stands for ear, nose, throat, which should give you a good idea of the specific areas in which ENT surgeons hold their expertise. In broader terms, ENT doctors specialize in the head and neck, excluding the eyes (that would be an ophthalmologist) and brain (neurologist or neurosurgeon). This covers diseases and disorders of the ears, respiratory systems, and related head and neck structures.
An ENT doctor has been through extensive training. Depending on which country they undertook their education and whether they needed to then do further accreditation to practice in another country, an ENT doctor’s education might look something like:
- 4 years of a Bachelor’s degree at university
- 4 years of medical school
- 5 or more years of specialty training to become an otolaryngologist
Then after their training, there are further exams in order to be permitted to practice. If ever you need to see an ENT doctor, you can be sure they are very educated.
After accomplishing their training to become a board-certified ENT doctor, they may then choose to undergo further study into a specific otolaryngology subspecialty. Areas for sub-specialization include:
- Head and neck oncology (cancers of the head and neck)
- Microvascular surgery
- Otology/neurotology (otology refers diseases and disorders of the ear while neurotology includes this as well as covering areas of the brain related to hearing and balance)
- Pediatric otolaryngology
- Facial plastic and reconstructive surgery
In addition to conducting examinations, diagnoses, and treatments, ENT doctors may also refer their patients to other medical or healthcare specialists. This could be for further testing to help enhance the ENT’s diagnosis or management, or if a patient’s condition encompasses multiple medical specialties.
What Conditions Do Otolaryngologists Manage?
ENT medicine covers quite a diverse list of diseases and disorders as there are a number of things that can go wrong in the head and neck.
You might be referred to an ENT doctor for:
- Problems related to tonsils and adenoids
- Persistent, chronic reflux
- Thyroid disease
- Voice disorders, such as sudden unexplained hoarseness
- Hearing loss and tinnitus
- Difficulties with swallowing
- Reconstructive plastic surgery of the face
- Ear infections
- Balance disorders, such as Meniere’s disease
- Deviated septum of the nose
- Sinus disorders, such as sinusitis or polyps
- Allergies causing sinus problems
- Benign tumors of the head and neck (excluding those in the eyes or brain)
- Sleep apnea
Depending on where you’re located, you may not need to see a primary care doctor to be able to access an ENT specialist. However, many ENT clinics would prefer you do get a referral from your primary physician, as this gives them a better idea of your presenting problem and your medical history. Visiting your primary physician first also ensures you’re going to the right specialist – turning up for an appointment at the otolaryngologist when you actually needed to see an ophthalmologist can be an expensive mistake!