What Kind of Training Does an Otolaryngologist Have?

An otolaryngologist is a physician who has received specialized training in the care of the specific body system involving the ears, nose, throat, head, and neck. Otolaryngologists are medical and surgical doctors who are trained to provide both medical and surgical care.

To become an otolaryngologist, doctors first receive a four-year undergraduate degree, then attend a four-year medical school, and then complete a residency that is at least five years long.

During the residency, an otolaryngologist learns about diagnosing, treating, and preventing disorders that involve the ears, upper respiratory system, upper digestive system, face, jaws, and head and neck. The science of our hearing and speech is very complex. During residency, an ENT becomes an expert at helping patients overcome problems in these areas.

What Does an Otolaryngologist Do?

An otolaryngologist, or ENT doctor, is an expert at managing conditions that arise in the ears, nose, throat, head, and neck. This is an extensive range of anatomy, and otolaryngologists often see quite various patients, ranging from those with audiology concerns to those with allergic or immunologic problems.

Surgically, otolaryngologists can conduct plastic and reconstructive surgery, and they can help surgically remove and treat cancers. Because the head and neck anatomy is quite complex, many otolaryngologists perform microsurgery using special tools such as endoscopes (long, thin, flexible tubes with cameras attached) to visualize problem areas fully.

Because of the exciting variety and complexity of the otolaryngology field, the American College of Surgery (ACS) rates otolaryngology as one of the most competitive areas of subspecialty surgical training. This means that to be an otolaryngologist, you must be the cream of the crop!

Most otolaryngologists are known as “general otolaryngologists.” However, others specialize in treating children or cancer patients. Many otolaryngologists will collaborate with other medical providers, such as audiologists, speech-language pathologists, physician assistants, or nurse practitioners.

Who Needs to See an Otolaryngologist?

Otolaryngologists are qualified to see patients of all ages, beginning at birth and extending to the very end of life. The most common group of people who visit an otolaryngologist is between the ages of 45 and 64, and the next most common age group is patients younger than age 20. If you smoke tobacco, you may be more likely to develop a problem that will require care by an ENT doctor.

How Does an Otolaryngologist Make a Diagnosis?

Many conditions managed by an ENT doctor can be diagnosed clinically, which means that the otolaryngologist can tell what is going on by looking at you and conducting a thorough medical history and physical exam.

However, sometimes the doctor needs more tools to make an ENT diagnosis. Otolaryngologists can use a tool called an otoscope to look into your ears or an endoscope to look into your nasal and sinus passages. Sometimes, an imaging study (such as a CT or MRI) can be useful in making a proper diagnosis.

If you have a suspicious sore or lump, you may need a biopsy, removing a small tissue sample for examination under a microscope. If you are experiencing problems with your thyroid, or recurrent infections, an ENT doctor might perform blood work. The doctor may also obtain a “culture” to see what kind of microbes may be causing a condition.

How to Learn More about Otolaryngology Services

At Lompoc Health, we are honored to partner with a team of excellent and compassionate otolaryngologists. Our ENT doctors work hard to provide comprehensive care for their patients, from the neck on up. If you think you may have a problem related to the ears, nose, throat, head, or neck, you may be able to receive a diagnosis and treatment from our primary care team. 

However, if your problem persists, or if you would like an ENT consultation, contact us today to schedule an appointment.