All About Otolaryngologists

Otolaryngologists are medical doctors who are also surgeons. They specialize in conditions of the throat, nose, and ears. Another name for an otolaryngologist is an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor, or simply an ENT.

Otolaryngology is one of the oldest medical specialties in the United States. It started in 1896. This article will explain more about what otolaryngologists do and when to visit one.

Doctor examining the ear of a woman

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Reasons to See an Otolaryngologist

Usually, your primary healthcare provider can handle minor or short-term conditions that affect the ears, nose, and throat. However, they may refer you to an ENT doctor if you have serious or long-term problems that require a specialist.  

You may need to see an otolaryngologist if you have:

  • Recurring sinus, ear, or throat infections
  • Frequent problems with sinus pressure or a runny nose
  • Persistent problems sleeping
  • Persistent dizziness
  • New or worsening hearing problems
  • Throat clearing, hoarseness, or wheezing that does not go away 
  • Problems swallowing
  • New or worsening lump on your throat or face that does not go away

ENT Surgery

You may need ENT surgery for your head or neck. An otolaryngologist can perform reconstructive or plastic surgery and other types of procedures. You may have a surgical procedure in the doctor’s office, outpatient clinic, or hospital.

Conditions Treated

Otolaryngologists treat a variety of ear, nose, and throat conditions, including:  

  • Allergies
  • Sinus, throat, and ear infections
  • Hearing loss
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Dizziness or vertigo (a feeling the world is spinning around you)
  • Facial deformities or injuries
  • Thyroid problems
  • Swallowing problems
  • Vocal cord problems
  • Tumors affecting the ear, nose, and throat
  • Laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (stomach acid flows back up the esophagus to the pharynx or upper throat)
  • Sleep apnea (breathing stops and restarts while sleeping) and other sleep problems

Special Types of Otolaryngologists

You may need to see a special type of otolaryngologist, such as:

  • Rhinologist: Doctor specializing in conditions that affect the nose, including the sinuses
  • Laryngologist: Doctor specializing in conditions that affect the throat, including swallowing and speaking
  • Otologist/neurotologist: Doctor specializing in conditions that affect the ears, including hearing and balance
  • Facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon: Doctor who performs procedures to enhance facial appearance or function
  • Head and neck surgeon: Doctor specializing in the surgical treatment of cancers of the ear, nose, and throat

ENT Doctor Background

To become an ENT, a person has to complete:

  • Four years of college
  • Four years of medical school
  • Five years of a residency program specializing in otolaryngology
  • The exam by the American Board of Otolaryngology

Where to Find an Otolaryngologist

The easiest way to find an otolaryngologist is to ask your primary healthcare provider to give you a referral. You may also want to look for otolaryngologists in your area by checking the American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery.

Otolaryngologist Advice for ENT Health 

Otolaryngologists want your ears, nose, and throat to stay healthy. Consider the following tips that promote ENT health:

  • Avoid or stop smoking.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Cover your mouth when coughing.
  • Wash your hands frequently to prevent infection.
  • Use saline nasal sprays to keep sinuses clear.
  • Identify and get treatment for allergies.
  • Limit going outside if the air quality is bad.
  • Keep a healthy body weight.

Summary

An otolaryngologist or ENT is a medical doctor and surgeon who specializes in treating the ear, nose, and throat. You may need to see an ENT doctor if you have serious or long-term conditions that a primary healthcare provider cannot handle. 

A Word From Verywell

Seeing a specialist, such as an otolaryngologist, can help you get answers to questions and find better treatment options. Talk to your primary healthcare provider about seeing an ENT. Consider getting several referrals and making sure your insurance will cover the visit.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Should you see a general practitioner or an ENT doctor for allergies?

    You may need to see an ENT doctor if your allergies are recurring or chronic (last a long time).

  • Do otolaryngologists use integrative medicine?

    Some otolaryngologists use integrative medicine in their practices, such as massage therapy or herbal treatments. You will need to check with each ENT doctor to determine if integrative medicine is part of their practice.

  • Can you make an appointment with an ENT doctor without a referral?

    You may be able to make an appointment with an ENT doctor without a referral. Some clinics and practices do not require referrals. However, your insurance company may not cover a visit without a referral.

  • How do you find out if your insurance covers ENT surgery?

    The best way to find out if your insurance covers ENT surgery is to ask your insurance provider directly. Consider checking their website or calling them. The insurance provider should have a database of ENT surgeons and procedures that are part of your coverage.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS). About us.

  2. American Academy of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS). What’s an ENT?