What is an otolaryngologist?

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Carol Bier-Laning, MD, MBA, FACS, Otolaryngologist, City of Hope | Chicago

This page was updated on July 25, 2023.

An otolaryngologist is a physician who treats a wide range of problems in your ear, nose and throat. Otolaryngologists are also called ENTs, short for ear, nose and throat doctors.

Some of the most common health concerns that otolaryngologists treat include:

  • Allergies
  • Balance problems
  • Breathing problems
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Hearing problems
  • Sinus issues
  • Skin disorders that affect the ears, nose or throat
  • Sleep problems such as sleep apnea
  • Speech problems
  • Swallowing difficulties

Otolaryngologists also perform surgeries for conditions of the ear, nose and throat, including surgeries that can remove cancers in the head, neck and throat.

What kind of training does an otolaryngologist have?

Otolaryngologists have many years of training. After attending four years of college, they must complete four years of medical school and another five to eight years of training in their specialty.

As part of their schooling, some otolaryngologists study a more specialized area, such as:

  • Facial plastic and reconstructive surgery
  • Head and neck oncology
  • Otology/neurotology ( the study of diseases of the ear)
  • Pediatric otolaryngology

What to expect at your visit

An otolaryngologist may examine the problem that you have that affects your ear, nose or throat and possibly conduct specialized tests or examinations in the affected areas. You may also discuss your general health.

Be prepared to fill out paperwork, including a list of any medications that you use. Make sure to include over-the-counter herbs and supplements.

Ahead of the appointment, you may want to make a list of questions or concerns that you want to ask the ENT. Also, consider bringing a trusted friend or family member who can remind you of anything you wanted to ask, listen to the ENT, and take notes.

What role does an otolaryngologist have in cancer treatment?

An otolaryngologist has a role in cancer treatment if you have cancer that affects the head, neck, ear, nose or throat. Your otolaryngologist may work with your cancer care team to help guide treatment, and the otolaryngologist may also perform surgery if you require it. Other specialists may include a:

  • Medical oncologist, who treats cancer using chemotherapy and other medical therapies
  • Radiation oncologist, who treats cancer with radiation therapy
  • Reconstructive/plastic surgeon, who performs reconstructive surgery  
  • Maxillofacial prosthodontist, who creates prostheses to aid in the reconstruction of the head and neck areas  

An otolaryngologist may help to treat cancers in the:

An otolaryngologist may also treat cancers that have spread to the lymph nodes in the neck.

How to find an otolaryngologist

There are more than 12,000 otolaryngologists in the United States. If you need to find an otolaryngologist, you may not be sure where to start.

  • If you have insurance, find out which otolaryngologists in your area are covered under your plan. You can usually find this out by calling the customer service number on the back of your insurance card or looking at your insurer’s website.
  • The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery provides an online resource to help find otolaryngologists. You can search for ENTs by ZIP code or city name and specialty area.

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