Otolaryngology is the medical specialty that focuses on the ears, nose, and throat of the patients. Doctors who specialize in this practice also train as surgeons so that they can perform the many delicate operations necessary when dealing with parts of the body that contain the smallest bones and cramped spaces.

What Is Otolaryngology?

An ears, nose, and throat specialist, or ENT, focuses not only on the diseases and conditions of the ears, nose, and throat but also on how the conditions of those three areas of the body affect the whole body. In the United States, it’s the oldest actual specialty other than surgery itself. It dates to the time of the Civil War, which is when doctors found out that all of the organs of the head and neck are interconnected.

Because of the broad range of techniques required to be fully in charge of one’s brief as an ENT specialist, the training involved is both rigorous and lengthy. Often, ENT specialists will be in their mid-30s before beginning their practice. ENT specialists who seek board certification might not start practicing until they’re 40.

Common Conditions Treated by an ENT Specialist

The ear conditions ENT specialists handle include ear infections, such as middle-ear infections like otitis media, or inner-ear infections like vestibular neuritis, or conditions that cause hearing loss or extraneous noise. Most balance issues are also tied to ear problems, particularly the inner ear. Some of these conditions are also tied to nerve issues in the face or cranium. They often do otoplasty, which is the reconstruction of the ear for any reason. One example of such treatment is to remedy, partially or completely, cauliflower ear in athletes, particularly wrestlers.

When it comes to the nose, ENT specialists treat all manner of allergies, sinus conditions, and deviated septa. They also handle loss of smell and taste and perform rhinoplasty, which is also known as a “nose job.” Another surgical procedure that they do is to remove polyps in the nasal cavity or from the sinuses.

Throat issues handled by ENT specialists include diseases and damage to the larynx, esophagus, and upper airway. Some of these conditions are fungal infections, such as thrush, and bacterial infections like strep throat. Some of them are even autoimmune disorders like Sjögrens Syndrome.

ENT specialists also treat conditions of the head and neck, which could be as mild as strained muscles and as life-threatening as bacterial meningitis. Following severe trauma to the head or face, ENT specialists can also perform complex reconstructive surgery.

In all cases, these specialists are also trained in how to combat various cancers, necrotizing fasciitis, and macerated skin of the head, face, and neck.

Frequently Asked Questions About Otolaryngology

Q: Why do children get so many ear infections?

A: Children haven’t had as many infections as adults, so they have not yet developed the antibodies to fight off such infections.

Q: Is it normal to have frequent sinus infections?

A: Yes, it’s normal. More than 12% of the population of the United States have them every year, making sinus infections the most common infection in the country.

Q: What can I do about snoring?

A: There are many ways to treat snoring, and these range from adhesive strips or machines designed to treat obstructive sleep apnea.

The Importance of a Professional Consultation

As with anything medical, seeing a professional is essential to the success of any treatment. Your ears, nose, and throat are a complicated system, and you need the advice of an ENT specialist to be able not only to treat anything wrong but also to explain everything to you in a way that you can understand.


Remember always to follow your doctor’s instructions. It’s also good to see your doctor if anything feels wrong rather than to “tough it out.” If there is something about your ears, nose, and/or throat that your general practitioner cannot handle, then that person will refer you to an ENT specialist.