Medical Professions Resources Directory: Otolarynologist

How To Become a...

How To Become an Otolarynologist


An otolaryngologist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of disease and disorders of the ear, nose, throat, and head and neck. Nearly everyone has seen an otolaryngologist, or ENT specialist, for an ear infection, laryngitis, or tonsillitis. Some of the specialized services provided by otolaryngologists are: otology, Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery, facial plastic and reconstructive surgery,head and neck surgery, and pediatric otolaryngology.

Otology is a study of ear-related problems, like sudden or gradual hearing loss, chronic draining ears, ear pain, or vertigo would want to see an otolaryngologist. Infected or draining ears often can be treated with medicines. However, some types of hearing loss are due to mechanical problems involving the middle ear or ear drum and are best treated with microsurgical repair.

Advances in technology have allowed otologists to restore the ability to hear in a limited number of profoundly deaf individuals through a cochlear implant. This is a surgically implanted device which transmits sound directly to the cochlea, located in the inner ear. The sound stimulates the hearing nerve through electrodes which are permanently implanted in the cochlea. Both adults and children can be eligible to receive a cochlear implant.

Other recent advances include procedures to restore facial mobility for patients with facial paralysis resulting from infections, fractures, tumors, or nerve disorders.

Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery: Sinusitis is a common and painful sinus infection that can cause stuffy headaches, pain around the eyes, a persistent runny nose, and congested breathing. Sinusitis has a variety of causes, including some environmental allergies, nasal polyps, or severe upper respiratory tract infections. Patients with occasional infections can be treated with antibiotics. However, sinusitis can become chronic. Patients with repeated infections may have an underlying anatomical problem such as a deviated septum, nasal polyps, or blocked sinus drainage ducts. Surgery may be required to prevent recurring infections and to improve the patient's ability to breathe. A new technique called Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery (FESS) allows the otolaryngologist to access the sinuses through the nasal cavity and enlarge the sinus drainage areas. FESS is less invasive than traditional sinus surgery, involves a shorter recovery period, and leaves no external scars.

Facial plastic and reconstructive surgery: Otolaryngologists are also trained in cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. The goal of most plastic surgery is to restore function while achieving the best possible appearance. For example, some patients who desire to change the appearance of their nose also suffer breathing difficulties as a result of a deviated septum or a nasal fracture. To correct these problems, surgery called rhinoplasty, or external nose surgery, can improve the size and shape of the nose while septoplasty can ensure that the breathing function of the nose is adequately evaluated and treated. Otolaryngologists also specialize in repairing all types of facial and jaw fractures, focusing, as well, on the repair of the underlying sinuses.

Facial plastic surgery can repair or camouflage scars from old accidents or surgery by changing their direction, or "sanding down" scars to match surrounding skin using dermabrasion techniques. Other procedures include aesthetic surgery using the latest techniques to enhance appearance through face lifts, chin and cheek implants, removal of birthmarks and alteration of protruding ears.

Head and neck surgery: With extensive knowledge of the complicated anatomy of the head and neck, otolaryngologists are specialists trained to diagnose and treat patients with lumps or bumps in the mouth, throat, neck, scalp, or face. Head and neck surgeons operate to remove cancers of the head and neck, including thyroid nodules, skin lesions, and salivary gland masses. Patients with swallowing problems or hoarseness are evaluated to rule out malignancy. In many cases, the hoarseness is related to benign vocal cord polyps, nodules, or swelling and can be medically or surgically corrected. Otolaryngologists are now utilizing new flexible fiberoptic endoscopes to evaluate patients with weak voices, singers with laryngitis, and patients with swallowing problems or difficulty breathing.

Pediatric otolaryngology: Otolaryngologists also are consulted about children with frequent infections of the upper respiratory tract, tonsils, adenoids, and sinuses. Depending on the frequency and severity of the tonsillitis or sinusitis, surgery may be required. Additionally, young children often experience recurring middle ear infections. If theses infections are severe or frequent, children can develop a hearing deficit which can impair development of their speech and language skills. A brief operation to insert ventilating tubes in the eardrums will usually relieve the chronic ear infections until the child outgrows the problem.






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