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What is Otolaryngology?

Doctors and Medical Specialties

Otolaryngology is the branch of medicine that studies diseases of the ear, nose, throat, head, and neck. This specialty has its roots in the 19th century when physicians recognized the interconnection of the structures of the head and neck and is considered to be the first medical specialty in the United States. An otolaryngologist or ENT (ear, nose throat) specialist is a medical doctor who has completed a surgical residency and a fellowship in head and neck surgery or head and neck oncology.

The field of Otolaryngology has an ever-growing patient base: over half of all medical office visits have to do with ear, nose, and throat problems. Otolaryngologists treat patients who experience problems with speech, balance, hearing, nosebleeds, smell, and taste. Ear infections, ear-aches, nerve pain, allergies, and tinnitus are common problems addressed by ENTs.

Otolaryngology specialties include:

Head and neck - These doctors work with patients who have oral and thyroid cancer and they perform endocrine surgery and microvascular free flap reconstruction.

Facial plastics - ENTs who work in plastics perform rhinoplasty, facelifts, brow lifts, injectable cosmetic treatments, and trauma reconstruction.

Otology - Otologists diagnose and treat ear disorders and hearing problems.

Neuro-otology - Neuro-otologists deal with problems of dizziness and the middle and inner ear, skull base, and temporal bone.

Rhinology-Sinus - These ENTs work with patients who experience sinusitis, allergies, apnea, snoring, and problems of the anterior skull base.

Laryngology - Laryngologists diagnose and treat patients with hoarseness, laryngitis, polyps, and larynx cancer and practice voice therapy and phono-surgery.

Pediatrics - Pediatric ENTs work with children in problems such as cleft lip and palate, vascular malformations, and veloPalatine-insufficiency. These doctors also perform cochlear implant surgery, tube surgery, and tonsillectomies.

Most otolaryngology patients are seen via referral from a primary caregiver or general practitioner. Minor issues involving the head and neck may be resolved by a family doctor, but larger issues generally require the expertise of an ENT. Be sure your insurance covers office visits and treatments and look for a doctor who is qualified, board certified, and has a good bedside manner.

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