ENT - Otolaryngology

ENT physician: A medical specialist who is concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the head and neck, including particularly the ears, nose, and throat. ENT doctors are also called otolaryngologists.

What is otolaryngology?

Otolaryngology is actually an abbreviation; the full term is otorhinolaryngology, derived from the Greek words for ear (oto), nose (rhino) and throat (laryn). The study of otolaryngology has expanded over the past 50 years and now comprises a regional specialty of the head and neck.

Otolaryngologists specialize in treating conditions of the ears, nose, throat, head, and neck.

  • Ears - The treatment of hearing disorders is unique to otolaryngologists.
  • Nose - chronic sinusitis is one of the most common medical complaints. Management of the nasal cavity also includes allergies and sense of smell.
  • Throat - the treatment of diseases of the larynx and esophagus are unique as a duty of otolaryngologists. These include voice and swallowing disorders.
  • Head and neck - diseases and disorders affecting the face, head and neck can also be treated by otolaryngologists, including infectious diseases, traumas, deformities and cancers. There may be some crossover in this area with other specialists, such as dermatologistsand oral and maxillofacial surgeons.

There are seven areas of expertise within the field of otolaryngology. Some otolaryngologists will undertake additional study to specialize in one of them and subsequently limit their services solely to the management of their chosen specialty:

  • Allergy - treatment of the condition by medication, immunotherapy or avoidance of triggers
  • Facial plastic and reconstructive surgery - performing surgery of the face, neck or ear for cosmetic, functional or reconstructive purposes
  • Head and neck - treatment or removal of tumors - cancerous or noncancerous - of the head and neck, including the nose and throat
  • Laryngology - management of disorders of the throat
  • Otology/neurotology - management of disorders of the ear, including nerve pathway disorders affecting hearing and balance
  • Pediatric otolaryngology - treatment of ENT diseases in children, including birth defects and developmental delays
  • Rhinology - management of disorders of the nose and sinuses.

Common conditions treated

Otolaryngologists provide care for a diverse range of conditions, utilizing both medical and surgical skills to treat their patients. They will have a firm understanding of the medical science of relevance to the head and neck, the respiratory and upper alimentary systems, communication sciences and the chemical senses.

The following list is a selection of common conditions that are treated by otolaryngologists, hopefully conveying a sense of the diversity in the range of conditions treated by these physicians:

Cleft lips and palates are congenital disorders and can vary in severity.

  • Airway problems: breathing difficulties can range from the mild (for example, stridor) to the life-threatening, such as airway obstructions. These problems can be caused by a variety of different underlying conditions.5,6
  • Cancer: according to the AAO-HNS, more than 55,000 Americans will develop cancer of the head and neck this year. The majority of cases are considered preventable, and it is estimated that nearly 13,000 of these people will die from the disease.
  • Chronic sinusitis: inflammation and swelling of the nasal passages. Mucus builds up and breathing through the nose may become difficult. Chronic sinusitis can be caused by infection, the growth of polyps within the nose or a deviated septum .
  • Cleft lip and cleft palate: a split in the oral structure whereby the lip and/or palate fails to fuse during fetal development. Clefts can vary in size, ranging from those providing minimal problems to those that seriously interfere with eating, speaking and breathing.
  • Deviated septum: the septum is the wall that divides the nasal cavity into two. A deviated septum is one that is drastically shifted away from the midline, typically resulting in breathing difficulties and chronic sinusitis. A deviated septum can be caused by injury to the nose or be present at birth.
  • Drooping eyelids: excessive sagging of the upper eyelid can be part of the natural aging process but can also be caused by several different underlying conditions such as diabetes, stroke, and tumors that affect nerve or muscle reactions. Drooping eyelids can sometimes hinder vision.
  • GERD: gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition whereby stomach acid and other contents of the digestive tract travel up to the esophagus. It is caused by a ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus not closing properly and can lead to heartburn, chest pains, and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).
  • Hearing loss: loss of hearing can affect people of all ages and is caused by a variety of different problems. Aging, exposure to loud noise, viruses, heart conditions, head injuries and trauma, stroke, and tumors have all been known to lead to gradual hearing loss.
  • Swallowing disorder: referred to as dysphagia, people among all age groups can have difficulty passing food, liquid, and saliva from the mouth to the stomach. Dysphagia can cause discomfort, impair nutrition, and lead to coughing and choking.
  • Tinnitus: the perception of sound when there is no external source present, tinnitus has been experienced by over 50 million Americans. Roughly 1 in 5 people with the condition experience bothersome tinnitus, a more severe form that can cause distress and negatively affect quality of life and functional health.
  • Tonsil and/or adenoid infection: tonsils and adenoids are part of the body's immune system and are situated in the throat. Their role is to sample bacteria and viruses that enter the body through the nose and mouth, but they can be prone to recurrent infection, which may necessitate surgery.
  • Vertigo and dizziness: - dizziness is a general symptom that can describe sensations of lightheadedness and imbalance, depending on the cause. A specific form of dizziness involving a spinning sensation is called vertigo, and this can be caused by conditions in the central nervous system or the balance nerves and organs in the inner ear.
  • Voice disorders: voice disorders can be caused by many things, including injury to the vocal cords, viruses, cancer and acid reflux. Diseases can result in hoarseness, lower vocal pitch, vocal fatigue and complete loss of voice.