What Is Otolaryngology?

Otolaryngology is a medical specialty field that assists patients with treatment of the ear, nose, throat, head and neck.

Otolaryngology is the medical field that studies the ear, nose, and throat, as well as other related structures of the head and neck. Otolaryngologists are physicians who are trained to treat and manage, as well as perform surgery to alleviate disorders of the head and neck areas. Otolaryngologists often are referred to as ENT doctors because of their focus on the ear, nose, and throat.

Otolaryngologists are highly educated and trained. After completing an undergraduate education, a person wishing to become an ENT doctor must apply to and complete a program at a medical school. A specialty program that focuses on otolaryngology is next. This specialty training lasts no less than five years. Oftentimes, doctors choose to further their training even more by pursuing specialty training that is even more focused on a specific area of otolaryngology (for example, focus on children or speech issues).

Otolaryngologists care for patients with hearing, balance, speech, voice, taste, and smell disorders. Additionally, because otolaryngologists also are surgeons, they manage head and neck cancer treatments, as well as reconstructive surgeries.

What types of disorders does otolaryngology cover?

Ears - Otolaryngology focuses on ear disorders including those that affect hearing, balance, and nerve pain. Ear infections are another disorder that ENT physicians treat.

Nose - Allergies and sinusitis are two common nose issues that otolaryngologists treat. Difficulty with smelling is another reason a person may seek the treatment of an otolaryngologist. If there is an issue with the actual nose structure and reconstructive surgery must be completed, an otolaryngologist would be the person to do the procedure.

Throat - Patients with voice problems, difficulty swallowing, and voice box diseases receive treatment from ENT doctors. Esophagus disorders are another issue that falls under the otolaryngology specialty.

Head and Neck - Otolaryngologists often treat disorders that are not tied directly to the ear, nose, and throat but rather to the structures of the head and neck. Some examples include the nerves that control hearing, smell, and even sight. Also cancers that occur in the head and neck often are surgically removed and treated by ENT specialists. Finally, the need for reconstructive surgery on the head or neck due to birth defects, trauma, or simply for cosmetic purposes are reasons to seek the treatment and care of an otolaryngologist.

Within the field otolaryngology there are seven specialties. For very specific needs, it often is a good idea to seek out a specialist. The following is a list of the seven otolaryngology specialties:

- Pediatric otolaryngology

- Allergy

- Head and neck diseases

- Otology / neurotology (ears, balance, and tinnitus)

- rhinology (nose)

- laryngology (throat)

- facial cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery

Before seeking the treatment of an otolaryngologist, most patients first will seek the treatment of their family doctor, most likely a general practitioner.A general practitioner can help with most minor issues, but will provide a reference when there is a disorder that needs the treatment of an otolaryngology specialist. Most major hospitals and insurance companies also can provide references to otolaryngologists in a given geographic area.

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