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What is Otorhinolaryngology: Definition and Overview

Definition and Overview

Otorhinolaryngology is the medical discipline involving the assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and management of diseases, abnormalities, and other health problems affecting the ears, nose and throat, as well as the head and neck, mouth, sinuses, and voice box (larynx). Also referred to as ENT, otorhinolaryngology is considered as one of the oldest medical practices in the United States.

Specialists in the field are called otorhinolaryngologists. Aside from medical management, they are also trained to perform surgeries that involve the above-mentioned body parts, including plastic or reconstructive surgeries.

Otorhinolaryngologists' training can take up to 15 years, excluding continuing education that is required in their field. Their education begins at colleges or universities for pre-requisite courses. This may take about four years, after which they proceed to medical school for another four years. They spend around five years in residency training, where they have to render a minimum number of clinical hours and surgery before they can apply for certification in their respective country or abroad, whichever they prefer. ENT specialists who want to train in surgery may have to go through at least eight months of additional training in general surgery and more than three years of progressive education.

Otorhinolaryngologists may also specialize in the following areas:

  • Sleep medicine – Certain sleeping disorders such as sleep apnoea can be attributed to abnormalities in the nose (e.g., septum deviation) or obstruction in the throat and the airway passage . Thus, some cases can be covered by ENT specialists.

  • Allergy – otorhinolaryngologists are expected to learn about the pathology of allergies. They are also trained to properly assess and treat allergies using treatment options that can range from medication to immunotherapy. They are also responsible for the prevention and management of the condition.

  • Head and neck – Otorhinolaryngologists trained in head and neck treatment and management are expected to have in-depth knowledge in oncology. They provide scientifically proven treatment and therapies as well as perform surgery to remove both benign and malignant tumours or to treat congenital deformities, and provide trauma care.

  • Facial surgery – Surgery can be either reconstructive in nature, which aims to restore the appearance or function of the affected body part, or plastic, which enhances the look of the body part especially the nose and ears.

  • Pediatric otorhinolaryngology – These are otorhinolaryngologists who work with children, which ages range from 0 to 12 years old. More often than not, they deal with congenital defects, trauma, and infections affecting the ears and throat.

When to see an ENT specialist

ENT specialists or otorhinolaryngologists can treat the following conditions:

  • Pain, especially if it does not go away despite taking medication (a perfect example is pain in the ear. Sometimes, it becomes painful when a person is suffering from a common cold or flu. But if the symptoms of common cold and flu are gone but the pain remains after medication, it is possible the cause of ear pain is infection).
  • Infection affecting the structures of the ears, nose, and throat
  • Malignant and benign tumours or polyps in the structures of the ears, nose, throat, head, and neck
  • Birth defects
  • Diseases affecting the structure of the mouth and jaw, excluding the teeth and gums, which are best handled by dental professionals.
  • Decreased function of the ears, nose, head, and neck (e.g., hearing loss)
  • Obstructive sleep apnoea, a kind of sleeping disorder
  • Allergies including allergic rhinitis and asthma
  • Acid reflux (GERD)
  • Symptoms such as change in voice quality (e.g., hoarseness) or difficulty in swallowing
  • Balance disorders
  • Sinusitis and migraine
  • Developmental delays among children
  • Disease affecting the sinuses
  • Cancers such as oral, salivary gland, and skin cancer affecting the head, neck, and nose
  • Fractures and damage to the skin tissues
  • Geriatric-related diseases


Otorhinolaryngologists may also be needed to perform:

  • Microvascular surgery, which involves grafting skin and its blood vessels from one area (donor site) to another (recipient site). This requires extensive skills and steady hands since blood vessels are fragile and small.
  • Maxillofacial surgery
  • Parathyroidectomy (the partial removal of thyroid glands) and thyroidectomy (complete removal of thyroid glands), adenoidectomy (removal of adenoids), and tonsillectomy (removal of tonsils)
  • Ear surgery
  • Fitting of hearing aid
  • Facelifts, septoplasty, and rhinoplasty
  • Blepharoplasty, brow lift, and otoplasty

    References:

  • Standford Medicine. Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery