Otolaryngology is a combined medical and surgical specialty focused on the diagnosis and management of conditions affecting the ear, nose, throat, and structures of the head and neck. Physicians who specialize in otolaryngology are called otolaryngologists or ENT physicians (ENT is short for ears, nose and throat).
In addition to addressing medical issues involving the ears, nose and throat, otolaryngologists can be helpful in evaluating and managing a wide range of other health problems in that same area, including conditions affecting the sinuses, esophagus, tumors or cancers of the head and neck, upper respiratory allergies, thyroid, and sleep disorders. For instance, while patients with simple colds, sore throats, tonsillitis, ear or sinus infections can usually be treated very effectively by their primary care physicians, an otolaryngologist may need to be involved if such conditions become chronic or recurrent or require surgery. Also, in addition to infections and other ear disorders, ENT physicians can evaluate and treat hearing loss, often in conjunction with audiologists that work out of the same practice.
To practice otolaryngology, a physician must complete the required general medical and surgical training over many years. Some otolaryngologists may then choose to pursue further training in a particular area to be able to offer more of certain services in their practices. The subspecialty areas of otolaryngology are outlined below, along with examples of conditions that otolaryngologists treat in those disciplines.
- Allergy focuses primarily on evaluation and management of disorders of the ear, nose, throat and bronchial tubes associated with various environmental sensitivities. In these cases, the usual diagnoses such as rhinitis, sinusitis, and pharyngitis are preceded by the word "allergic" (such as allergic rhinitis). These ENT physicians will also conduct allergy testing and administer allergy shots (immunotherapy).
- Facial plastic and reconstructive surgery involves the assessment and surgical treatment of abnormalities of the face, neck and ear. This includes cosmetic surgical procedures (e.g., to remove excess nasal bone and cartilage to improve appearance), functional surgeries (e.g., to correct a deviated septum in the nose which can help breathing but may also improve appearance), and reconstructive surgery (e.g., to correct a cleft palate or revise a facial scar). These ENT physicians can also perform what is often called a "cosmetic repair" of a new/fresh laceration on the face or neck.
- Head and neck primarily involves diagnosis and treatment of benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) tumors of the head and neck, such as masses in the thyroid, parathyroid, larynx and mouth.
- Laryngology focuses on disorders that affect the larynx (voice box), such as polyps, Parkinson's disease, and squamous cell carcinoma (cancer), which can cause problems with the voice, swallowing and breathing.
- Neurotology/otology concentrates on disorders of the outer and inner ear, including conditions affecting balance and nerve function, as well as disorders involving the temporal bones (bones at the sides and base of the skull, near the temples) and the skull base. Examples include hearing loss (and cochlear implantation to correct hearing problems), chronic ear infections, dizziness and vertigo, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
- Pediatric otolaryngology focuses on disorders or illnesses of the ear, nose, and throat in children (newborn to teenager). Some examples of common illnesses include tonsillitis and recurrent ear infections.
- Rhinology involves disorders of the nose and sinuses, including sinus tumors, chronic sinusitis, recurrent nosebleeds, and nasal deformities.
- Sleep medicine, as the name suggests, focuses on disorders affecting sleep, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome, often when related to structures in and around the upper palate and throat that may interfere with breathing during sleep.
Because an otolaryngologist has completed surgical training, he or she can perform surgical procedures (if required) in addition to treating the various conditions non-surgically. Often, depending on the patient's disease or condition, an otolaryngologist may work as part of a team of physicians to provide the best possible care to the patient.
Otolaryngology and Chester County Hospital
For more information about head and neck surgeons on the Medical Staff at Chester County Hospital, call our Physician Referral Service at 800-789-PENN (7366) or visit the Find a Doctor section of our website.
Last Updated: 2/10/2014