If you’ve ever gone to your family doctor with a chronic sore throat, an ear infection, or sinus problems, you may have been referred to a specialist called an ENT. Or, this may be your first time hearing about this medical specialty. So what is an ENT, and when is it helpful to consult with one?
“ENT” simply stands for “ear, nose, throat,” and that’s the job description of an ENT specialist: treating those parts of patients’ bodies. ENT doctors—also known as otolaryngologists—have a wealth of highly specific training and experience. While primary care physicians are absolutely crucial as the first line of defense against all kinds of illness, ENT specialists focus on the sinuses in detail. This means they are the best-qualified professionals to see when you have a chronic or a complicated problem with these interconnected parts of the body, and a good person to see if you have chronic sinusitis. Depending on the details of your condition, you may also be referred to an allergist.
The path to becoming an ENT doctor
Ear-nose-throat specialists go through up to 15 years of specialized training before they take full senior positions practicing their specialty.
In the United States, an ENT doctor must undergo the following stages of training:
- college (typically at least four years)
- medical school (typically four years)
- ENT residency training (five years, minimum)
After all this training, an ENT can become board-certified. To become a board-certified ENT specialist, the physician must then pass the American Board of Otolaryngology exam. A specialist can then elect to train on one or more of the following sub-specialties within the ENT field:
- facial plastic and reconstructive surgery
- head and neck (cancers and tumors in the head and neck)
- laryngology (throat)
- otology/neurotology (ears, balance, and tinnitus)
- pediatric otolaryngology (children)
- rhinology (nose)
- sleep disorders
ENT doctors who have trained specifically in one of these eight areas might limit their practice to their subspecialty or they might treat a variety of patients.
ENT doctors are also trained in both medicine and surgery, and so they are familiar with advanced treatments for ear, nose, throat, head, and neck disorders, and can advise patients on what are the treatment options for their individual situations.
When might I consider consulting an ENT?
An ENT may be an appropriate physician to talk to for concerns regarding disorders of the ears, nose, throat, head, and neck, including growths, infection, and more. (Some ENT physicians specialize in allergies and their link to sinus issues; for some allergy problems, it is more appropriate to see an allergist. You can receive advice on your individual case from your doctor.)
In particular, chronic sinusitis sufferers benefit considerably from consulting with an ENT specialist. Primary care physicians play a critical role in diagnosing and treating all kinds of health problems including sinusitis. ENT specialists, however—like specialists for other bodily systems or disorders—have the in-depth knowledge and experience required to treat advanced chronic sinusitis cases. This makes an ENT the appropriate person to discuss chronic sinus issues with. So if you have chronic sinusitis, you may be referred to an ENT specialist for treatment.