What Are ENT Disorders?

Ear, Nose & Throat Disorders

ENT exam
ENT exam. Westend61/Getty Images

ENT is a medical abbreviation for ears, nose and throat. A doctor who specializes in treating these disorders is called an "ENT," or less commonly an otolaryngologist. Here are some examples of ENT disorders:

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 your sense of smell, but also partially provides for your sense of taste. The nose also plays an important function in humidifying air as well as defensive mechanisms to preventing germs from entering the body. The throat provides the rout for both air to reach the lungs, as well as the route for food and water to enter your digestive tract.

Dysfunction to 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 not only see a primary care physician, but to also include an otolaryngologist in the management of your disorder.


When the tonsils become inflamed for long periods of time, they may have to be surgically removed; this procedure is called a "tonsillectomy." Though tonsillitis used to be treated with tonsillectomy frequently, it is no longer the practice and is now only done in specific instances. 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. Often tonsils are enlarged, swollen and painful during tonsillitis. Less absolute indications for tonsillectomy include: recurrent strep throat, chronic tonsillitis that does not improve with antibiotics, obstruction leading to bad breath or changes in voice. There are many causes of tonsillitis.

Ear Infections

Ear infections occur when germs enter the ear and become trapped there. Symptoms of ear infections include:

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 doctor may choose to surgically put small tubes inside your child's ear; these are called "myringotomy 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 a bacteria or virus. Symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • difficulty breathing
  • 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
  • snoring
  • witnessed 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.

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