What Are ENT Disorders?

Ear, Nose & Throat Disorders

ENT is a medical abbreviation for ears, nose, and throat. A healthcare provider who specializes in treating ENT disorders may be referred to simply as an "ENT." However, the proper name for this type of doctor is an otolaryngologist.

Doctor looking into patient's throat
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ENT Anatomy and Function Overview

The ears, nose, and throat are important parts of your body that are used on a daily basis. The ears are sensory organs that are not only related to hearing but also function to provide you with a sense of balance.

The nose is also a sensory organ that not only provides you with sense of smell, but also partially provides for your sense of taste. The nose also plays an important function in humidifying air we breathe and works to prevent germs from entering the body.

The throat provides the route for air to reach the lungs as well as the route for food and water to enter your digestive tract.

Dysfunction of the ears, nose, or throat can dramatically affect your quality of life and in some cases may constitute a medical emergency. If you have chronic ear, nose, or throat problems, it is advisable to see a primary care healthcare provider as well as to include an otolaryngologist in the management of your disorder.

The rest of this article will provide basic information on common disorders of the ear, nose, and throat.


Inflammation or infection of the tonsils is commonly called tonsillitis. This condition can be caused by the common cold, mono, or strep throat. It is a very common condition that can cause severe throat pain.

When the tonsils become inflamed or infected for long periods of time, they may have to be surgically removed; this procedure is called a "tonsillectomy." Though tonsillitis frequently used to be treated with tonsillectomy, it is no longer the first line of treatment and is now only done in specific instances. One of the most common conditions that can sometimes be treated with tonsillectomy is sleep apnea.

When inflammation is severe enough, it can interfere with swallowing and breathing. Tonsil removal is indicated in cases of extreme obstruction of the airways or swallowing.

Less absolute indications for tonsillectomy include recurrent strep throat, chronic tonsillitis that does not improve with antibiotics, and obstruction leading to bad breath or changes in voice.

Ear Infections

Ear infections occur when germs enter the ear and become trapped there, or you may have fluid or mucus build-up from a recent infection or allergy, allowing viruses or bacteria to grow in the ear. Symptoms of ear infections include:

  • pain
  • hearing loss
  • balance problems
  • drainage from the ear (from a ruptured tympanic membrane)

Small children are more likely to have ear infections. Signs of an ear infection in your child may include:

  • irritability that escalates at bedtime
  • balance problems
  • fever

Some children may pull or tug at their ears. If the infection goes untreated for long periods of time, it can cause delays in their development, such as hearing and speech delays. If your child has chronic ear infections, your healthcare provider may choose to surgically put small tubes inside your child's ear; these are called ventilation tubes.

Sinus Infections

Sinuses are cavities in the skull that surround the eyes and nose and are responsible for vocal resonance. Sinusitis occurs when these cavities become infected by bacteria, fungi, or a virus, or inflamed due to allergies or other conditions. Symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • headache
  • runny nose
  • sneezing and coughing
  • bad breath
  • pain around the eyes or across the bridge of the nose
  • toothaches

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a brief cessation of breathing while asleep. It can occur in both adults and children. Common causes of sleep apnea include:

  • being overweight
  • enlarged tonsils or other structures in the nose and throat
  • having a naturally shorter airway than usual

Symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • snoring
  • episodes of snoring and gasping during sleep
  • waking up feeling unrested
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • depression
  • waking up with a very dry or sore throat
  • waking up several times during the night

If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause heart failure, depression, mood changes, and other diseases. Treatment recommendations often include lifestyle and diet changes, continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), or, in the case of airway abnormalities, ENT surgery.

It should be noted that while some ENT doctors are comfortable treating any disease involving the ear, nose, and throat, others are more specialized. Be prepared to discuss your symptoms when you visit with your specialist. Other ENT disorders include hearing loss, vertigo, acid reflux, cancers of the ear, nose, and throat, and many more.

9 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. Lammens F, Lemkens N, Laureyns G, Lemmens W, Van Camp L, Lemkens P. Epidemiology of ENT emergencies. B-ENT. 2014;10(2):87-92. 

  2. Michigan Medicine. University of Michigan. Tonsillitis.

  3. Harvard Medical School Harvard Health Publishing. Does your child need a tonsillectomy?

  4. Columbia University. Department of Otolaryngology. Tonsillectomy and adenoidectomy

  5. Columbia University. Department of Otolaryngology. Otitis media (middle ear infection) in adults

  6. NIH National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Ear infections in children.

  7. American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Sinus infection.

  8. National Sleep Foundation. Sleep apnea

  9. Cleveland Clinic. Sleep apnea.

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.