How to Find the Right ENT

Ear, Nose, and Throat Doctor

doctor examining patients ear in doctors office

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Otolaryngologists, also known as ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors, diagnose and treat ENT conditions and disease. 

An otolaryngologist is a doctor that has received specific training to treat disorders of the ears, nose, throat, as well as the head and neck. Commonly referred to as an ENT (standing for ears, nose, and throat), otolaryngologists represent the oldest specialty of physicians; having their first meeting held in 1896.

Otolaryngologists now belong to an organization known as the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS). With more than 12,000 ENTs practicing in the United States, how can you identify the one that will be the best for you? Let's explore this field and identify things that can help you determine the right ENT for you.

What ENT Doctors Treat

Though the field of otolaryngology is quite extensive, the good thing about it is that it covers many different ailments. Some ENTs consider themselves to be in general practitioners, meaning they treat a variety of conditions. Others receive additional training so they can specialize in one of the following areas:

  • Allergy: Treatment by medication, immunotherapy (allergy shots) and/or avoidance of pollen, dust, mold, food, and other sensitivities that affect the ear, nose, and throat. Examples: hay fever, seasonal and perennial rhinitis
  • Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: Cosmetic, functional, and reconstructive surgical plastic treatment of abnormalities of the face and neck. Examples: deviated septum, rhinoplasty, cleft palate
  • Head and Neck: Cancerous and noncancerous tumors in the head and neck, including the thyroid and parathyroid. Examples: lump in the neck or thyroid, cancer of the voice box
  • Laryngology: Disorders of the throat, including voice and swallowing problems. Examples: sore throat, hoarseness, swallowing disorder
  • Otology and Neurotology: Diseases of the ear, including injury, cancer, and nerve pathway disorders, which can affect the ear and balance. Examples: ear infection, hearing loss, dizziness
  • Pediatric Otolaryngology: Diseases in children with special ENT problems including birth defects in the head and neck and developmental delays. Examples: tonsil and adenoid infection, airway problems, Down's syndrome
  • Rhinology: Disorders of the nose and sinuses. Examples: sinus disorder, nose bleed, loss of smell

Starting Point

Before making an appointment with an ENT, the first step is to review your health insurance plan. The doctors, specialist, or service you want may not be covered by your health insurance plan. Furthermore, some services require pre-approval before your doctor can provide them. Using the provider search function on your insurance company's website or calling before your appointment to get approval is the best way to avoid an unpleasant surprise when you get the bill. It's always better to know what your insurance company will cover—and the amount you'll have to pay—before you receive a service.

Use Your Resources

Once you have a list of covered ENTs in your area, you can check with your primary care physician. If there is a good otolaryngologist in your area, they will likely have a reputation among the medical community. You can also ask your friends and family. Chances are good that someone you know already has an ear, nose and throat doctor.

This is helpful because they will likely give you an honest opinion of their doctor from a patient's perspective. They will also be able to describe if they interact well with patients, or if they have heard about any complications with working with that ENT in the past.

You can also use resources available on the internet that rate physicians. Many websites will provide you information about certifications, malpractice cases, training background, and patient ratings. You can also confirm that the ENT you're considering is board-certified by visiting the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery website.

Questions to Ask the Doctors Office

Because there are seven subspecialties that are a part of the field of Otolaryngology, many doctors will focus on one specialty. For instance, there are ENTs who solely work on disorders of the ear (rhinology). These physicians will stay so busy placing ear tubes and performing other ear surgeries that they would no longer be as competent in removing a thyroid. Before scheduling an appointment, ask the scheduler:

  1. Does the doctor specialize in an area of Otolaryngology?
  2. Does the doctor see patients with ____ insurance?
  3. What is the normal waiting time and can I be seen sooner if there is a cancellation?
  4. Do I need a referral to see the physician?

The scheduler may not always know if your insurance is covered. This can be very frustrating as a patient, as there are many different insurances and many different plans that can affect your coverage. It is always best to verify with your insurance; usually the patient advocate with your insurance provider.

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Article Sources

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  2. Hughes CA, McMenamin P, Mehta V, Pillsbury H, Kennedy D. Otolaryngology workforce analysis. Laryngoscope. 2016;126 Suppl 9:S5-S11. doi:10.1002/lary.26238

  3. American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. About Us. Updated 2019.