Field of Otolaryngology: When to See an ENT Specialist

Otolaryngologists frequently treat ENT concerns, such as sinus problems.

The Good Brigade / Getty Images
The Good Brigade / Getty Images

An otolaryngologist is an ear, nose, and throat doctor, also referred to as an ENT. This type of doctor performs medical and surgical treatment of parts of the body above your shoulders, except for your eyes and brain. You might see an otolaryngologist for ear pain, sinus issues, trouble swallowing, or dizziness.

Continue reading to learn more about otolaryngologists, and when you might make to see this type of doctor.

The Good Brigade / Getty Images
The Good Brigade / Getty Images

Otolaryngology: Who Are These Specialists?

An otolaryngologist is a physician who specializes in the treatment of the ears, nose, throat, sinuses, head and neck. They can help you if you have trouble tasting, experience chronic ear infections, or find yourself with vertigo. Since otolaryngologists are surgeons, they can also perform specialized procedures when necessary.

There’s a lot that can go wrong within the head and neck. In fact, about half of people will need treatment from an otolaryngologist at some point. Because so much can happen within the head and neck, otolaryngologists can study certain subspecialties, including:

  • Otologists and neurotologists, doctors who specialize in the inner ear

  • Laryngologists, doctors who treat the voice box and swallowing issues

Otolaryngologists are different from audiologists. Audiologists specialize in treating hearing loss and some balance problems. Otolaryngologists have more training, including surgical skills. Some people with hearing loss might need both an otolaryngologist and an audiologist.

Conditions Otolaryngology Teams Treat

Although otolaryngologists are also called ear, nose, and throat doctors, they treat much more than just those body parts. You may need to see an otolaryngologist if you’re experiencing any of the following:

These are just a bit of what an otolaryngologist can treat. Since it’s such a broad field, it’s best to discuss your concerns with your primary care provider first to determine if an ENT is the right type of healthcare provider to treat you.

How to Get an Otolaryngology Referral

If you’re having chronic health issues in your head, face, or neck, it’s likely time to see an otolaryngologist. Request a referral from your primary care doctor. In some cases, depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to visit an otolaryngologist without a referral.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology maintains a database of otolaryngologists, which you can find here. The database can help you locate an otolaryngologist in your area.

Otolaryngology Training and Certification

To become a board-certified otolaryngologist, a person must first earn an undergraduate degree before applying to and attending medical school. After medical school, they will undergo at least five additional years of training in an accredited residency program.

During that time, they spend at least nine months and up to 12 months learning surgical techniques, with another 51 months of progressive education in the specialty. Their final year of training is as a chief resident within an institution approved by the American Board of Otolaryngology.


An otolaryngologist is an ear, nose, and throat doctor, or ENT. They specialize in treating problems of the ears and structures of the head and neck, ranging from recurrent ear and sinus infections to thyroid concerns to sleep apnea, and more. If you have ongoing health issues in your head or neck, your primary care provider might suggest visiting an otolaryngologist.