If you have an ear infection, hearing problems, or other ear issues, you may be wondering who to see. The titles for different specialists might be a little confusing because ear doctors are known by many names, including:
- Head and neck surgeons
- Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor (ENT)
What Does an Ear Doctor Do?
ENT doctors are physicians trained to diagnose, manage, and treat disorders of the ears, nose, throat, and related head and neck structures.
Treatment of these body parts is organized into a single medical specialty because they’re interconnected, so conditions in one area often affect the others.
Like other medical doctors, ENT physicians attend medical school and are required to undergo a hospital residency, where they receive advanced training in treating diseases and performing surgical procedures.
Below are the various structure-specific treatments ENTs provide.
ENTs play a crucial role in treating ear conditions. These professionals are trained in both the medical and surgical treatment of:
- Neck pain
- Facial and cranial nerve disorders
- Congenital deformities of the outer and middle ear
An ENT is also trained to perform reconstructive surgery to address conductive hearing loss caused by damage to or disorders of middle ear structures, such as ruptured eardrums and otosclerosis.
If you have profound hearing loss requiring cochlear implants, an ENT will also perform that surgery.
Otolaryngologists treat medical issues in the nose, nasal cavity and sinuses, including:
- Sinus infections
- Deviated septum
- Smell disorders
- Nasal obstruction
An ENT can treat medical conditions related to the throat, such as:
- Diseases of the voice box or larynx
- Infections of the esophagus or upper digestive system
- Throat cancer and benign tumors
- Voice disorders
- Difficulty swallowing
Head and Neck
ENTs perform head and neck surgery and treat various related conditions, including:
- Benign and malignant tumors
- Facial trauma and deformities
- Infectious diseases
However, ENTs do not treat all regions of the head. For instance, neurologists treat problems with the brain and nervous system, while ophthalmologists deal with vision.
ENTs Versus Audiologists
ENTs are sometimes confused with audiologists. The two often work together to diagnose and treat hearing loss, but they aren’t the same. Though an audiologist might be colloquially described as a “hearing doctor,” they are not physicians.
An audiologist is a hearing professional with a four-year doctorate in audiology. An ENT has a broad medical specialty covering the ear, nose, and throat, whereas audiologists diagnose and treat hearing and balance disorders.
An audiologist’s primary role is diagnostic. They determine the type and severity of hearing loss.
They’ll prescribe hearing aids or other amplification devices to improve the patient’s communication ability if necessary. If a hearing problem can’t be treated with hearing aids, an audiologist will refer patients to an ENT for medical and surgical care.
Also Read: How Much Do Audiologists Make a Year?
Hearing Instrument Specialist
In addition to ENTs and audiologists, there is another kind of hearing professional called a hearing instrument specialist. They’re certified to dispense hearing aids and other hearing instruments. Audiologists refer patients to hearing instrument specialists for hearing aid fitting and selection.
When to Consult an ENT Doctor
If you have any of the following conditions, make an appointment with a local ENT:
- Pain in or injuries to the ear, nose or throat
- Infections of the ears, throat or sinuses
- Difficulty swallowing or talking
- Snoring or sleep apnea
- Nose bleeds or congestion
- Tinnitus or balance disorders
- Lost sense of smell
- Head and neck pain
How Do I Find an ENT?
To find an ENT, you can get a referral from your primary care doctor or check the website of your health insurance plan. You can also open the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery website and search for a specialist in your area.
There isn’t a doctor who specializes in the ear specifically. Ear disorders are treated by an otolaryngologist who treats the ear, nose and throat conditions, while hearing problems are handled by several hearing professionals, including an ENT, audiologist, and hearing instrument specialists.
If you’re unsure about how to proceed, consult a general practitioner or your healthcare provider.