Ear, Nose & Throat Doctors: Who Treats What?
November 07, 2023
When you have a sinus infection, a sore throat, allergies or ear pain, what kind of doctor should you go to for care? Most people assume their primary care doctor can diagnose and treat these problems and, in many cases, that assumption is correct. But when should you seek specialty care from an ENT specialist?
ENT physicians, known as otolaryngologists, have advanced medical and surgical training in the treatment of a wide variety of conditions related to the ear, nose and throat. Such a wide variety, in fact, an ENT doctor might remove a child’s tonsils, perform surgery to treat sleep apnea, prescribe allergy medication and diagnose throat cancer, all in one day. All otolaryngologists complete a five year surgical residency after medical school. Subspecialists complete one to two years of additional fellowship training after residency to become certified in their area of expertise.
Because there are so many different ENT conditions of varying complexity, there are several recognized subspecialties within this medical discipline.
Unless your primary care physician has referred you to a specific subspecialist, seeing a general ENT is a good place to start for any head and neck concerns. A general ENT can diagnose and treat a full spectrum of disorders including allergies, sleep apnea, hearing & balance disorders, swallowing & speech problems, chronic ear infections and much more. If it is determined that more advanced or complex treatment is required, the general ENT will likely refer the patient to one of the following subspecialists:
Pediatric ENT. Otolaryngologists who choose to focus their practice on the treatment of children. Although general ENTs often diagnose and treat children, those with complex disease, congenital head, neck or airway conditions or birth defects related to the head and neck will likely be referred to a pediatric ENT for care.
Otology. This subspecialty focuses on conditions related to the ears, including hearing loss, tinnitus, ear infections and ear nerve disorders that may impact both balance and hearing. Many of these conditions may be initially diagnosed by a primary care physician or general ENT and referred to an otologist, particularly if ear surgery is necessary.
Rhinology. Rhinologists provide advanced diagnostics and medical and surgical treatments for diseases of the nasal cavity, sinuses, paranasal sinuses and the surrounding structures. Conditions treated by this ENT subspecialty include severe allergies, chronic sinus disease, nasal polyps and obstructions and other complex medical conditions such as pituitary tumors.
Neurotology. These highly trained ENT subspecialists provide surgical care for the nerves that connect the ears and brain. Conditions treated include lateral skull base tumors such as acoustic neuromas, hearing loss, infectious and inflammatory diseases of the ear, facial nerve disorders and congenital malformations and tumors of the ear.
Laryngology. This specialty focuses on voice, airway and swallowing disorders. Laryngologists diagnose and treat problems like dysphagia (swallowing problems), unusual voice changes like chronic hoarseness, reflux disorders and various infections and inflammations of the throat, voice box (larynx) and food pipe (esophagus).
Head and Neck Cancer. Otolaryngologists who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of benign or cancerous tumors of the head and neck. They are trained to perform both cosmetic and reconstructive procedures including complex resections and free flap procedures.
Facial Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. ENT physicians with specialized training in plastic and reconstructive procedures to correct face, neck, and ear abnormalities. They may perform face lifts; facial reanimation procedures; eyelid surgery (blepharoplasty), forehead and neck lifts; surgical corrections of cleft palates or deformities of the ear; and complex facial reconstruction after cancer treatment.
University Hospitals has a wide network of ENT specialists and subspecialists at convenient locations across the region. In collaboration with primary care physicians, oncologists and plastic surgeons, we offer the most advanced diagnostics and treatment for the full spectrum of ear, nose and throat conditions.