Ear, nose and throat specialists, also called ENTs, ENT doctors and otolaryngologists, specialize in otolaryngology (pronounced ō-tō-la-rən-gä-lə-jē). Otolaryngologists diagnose, manage and treat disorders of the head and neck, including the ears, nose throat, sinuses, voice box (larynx) and other structures. Otolaryngology is a surgical specialty and ENTs are trained in the medical and surgical management of disease.

Doctor Examining Ear - Masterfile Image

Otolaryngologists may see adults and children and treat a variety of conditions, such as:

  • Hearing loss and ear disorders (e.g., ear infection, dizziness, tinnitus)
  • Allergies (e.g., hay fever, seasonal rhinitis)
  • Infections (e.g., sinusitis, tonsillitis)
  • Injuries
  • Congenital (present at birth) or acquired abnormalities (e.g., cleft palate, cleft lip, deviated septum, drooping eyelids, loss of smell)
  • Swallowing disorders (e.g., difficulty swallowing)
  • Speech disorders (e.g., hoarseness, laryngitis)
  • Benign (non-cancerous) growths and malignant (cancerous) tumors of the nose, sinuses, mouth, throat, larynx, upper esophagus, thyroid gland and parathyroid (e.g., nasal polyps, head and neck cancer)
  • Certain nerve disorders (e.g., Bell's palsy)
  • Sleep disorders (e.g., sleep apnea, snoring)

Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist Education, Training and Certification

ENT physicians must complete about 15 years of education and training, including a 4-year undergraduate program, 4-year medical program, at least 5 years of specialty training and a 1- to 2-year residency program (e.g., General Surgery). Then, physicians must undergo peer evaluations and pass oral and written examinations administered by the American Board of Otolaryngology.

After attaining board certification, otolaryngologists may pursue a one- or two- year fellowship for extensive training and examinations in a subspecialty area. Otolaryngology subspecialties include:

  • Allergy
  • Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
  • Head and Neck Surgery
  • Laryngology
  • Otology/Audiology
  • Pediatric Otolaryngology
  • Rhinology
  • Neurotology
  • Sleep Medicine

Board certification is valid for 10 years. To revalidate their certification, ENTs must meet guidelines established by the American Board of Medical Specialties and complete a Maintenance of Certification Program. This process emphasizes professional standing, lifelong learning and self-assessment, cognitive expertise and evaluation of performance in practice.

Recertification requirements include:

  • Valid certificate issued by the American Board of Otolaryngology
  • Valid, unrestricted medical license
  • Privileges to practice otolaryngology-head and neck surgery in accredited hospital or surgical center
  • Completion of required CME credits
  • Successful completion of the American Board of Otolaryngology self-assessment module
  • Maintenance of Certification Examination

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at Healthcommunities.com

Published: 24 Jan 2012

Last Modified: 18 Sep 2015