First of all, what is an otolaryngologist – also called an ENT? It is a doctor who specializes in ear, nose, and throat conditions. Regardless of which one of those three areas is affected by your health condition, you may need a referral for an ear, nose, and throat doctor.
Let’s take the ear, for example. If you suffer from recurrent ear infections, a balance problem, ringing in your ears, or were born with a disorder of the ear, an otolaryngologist can be of assistance to you.
What about the throat? Many different conditions may affect your ability to speak, sing, or even swallow. You may also suffer from acid reflux, which can cause permanent damage to your throat and cause laryngitis or even cancer. Sleep apnea is another condition you might see an ENT doc for. These are all problems that can be treated by an otolaryngologist, and you may wish to ask your doctor to refer you to someone.
Finally, we have conditions involving the nose. Many suffer from serious sinus issues that are beyond the realm of a general practitioner’s help. Additionally, if you have any other condition that affects your head or neck, this would fall under the expertise of an otolaryngologist.
What special qualifications does an ear, nose, and throat doctor have? Besides going to medical school, an otolaryngologist must also complete an additional five years of special training in their field, culminating with an exam that is given by the American Board of Otolaryngology. Beyond that, each specific doctor may have received training in an even more specialized field, to become proficient in treating children, allergies, sinus problems, head and neck tumors, or throat conditions.
There are literally dozens of conditions that should move a person to want to see an ear, nose, and throat doctor. Anyone who suffers from chronic sinus issues should seek a consultation to see if surgery is a possible treatment option. If a child needs to have their tonsils or adenoids removed you should seek an otolaryngologist who specializes in pediatrics. If you suffer from constant ear infections, whether they be inner ear infections or middle ear infections (swimmer’s ear), you should see if a specialist can identify the underlying cause.
Other issues may cause physical problems such as a cleft palate, which can make it difficult to speak, or a deviated septum, which can cause difficulty in breathing through the nose. These conditions also result in physical abnormalities and can be corrected at least to some degree by surgery.
You need your ears, nose, and throat for some of your most important activities – you want to be able to smell, hear, speak, and eat to the best of your ability, as all of these things add to your enjoyment of life. Seeing an ear, nose, and throat specialist to deal with any chronic conditions can therefore help add to your quality of life.
By Eric Cohen, MD