Ear, Nose, & Throat FAQ

Ear, Nose, & Throat FAQ

What does ENT stand for?

Answer: ENT is an abbreviation for ear, nose, and throat. Since the ears, the nose, and the throat are all so closely connected and entangled with each other, to understand one of these aspects, a specialist needs to understand all three and how they work together in unison to diagnose issues and provide solutions properly. 

What is an ENT physician?

Answer:  An ENT doctor or an otolaryngologist is a physician specifically trained in ear, nose, and throat health. From hearing problems and sore throats to issues with vertigo and speech disorders, an ENT doctor has extensive knowledge about how these three delicate, but intricate parts of the body, work together and affect each other. Otolaryngologists are trained in the medical and surgical treatment of allergy and sinus infections, nasal congestion, recurrent throat infections, tonsil problems, sleep problems (snoring and breathing difficulties), thyroid tumors, salivary gland tumors, neck masses, hearing loss, ear infections, balance disorders, ear noise (tinnitus), nerve pain, and facial and cranial nerve disorders. They also manage congenital (birth) disorders of the outer and inner ear.  They see adults and children, including newborns.

Do you need a referral to see an ENT physician?

Answer:  Since an ear, nose, and throat doctor is considered a specialist, it is typical to have a referral from your primary care doctor before seeing one. This depends on your insurance and whether they require a referral to see a specialist.  Most PPO insurance plans do not require a referral.  Depending on the situation and the insurance company covering the visit, you may or may not need a referral.

What does an ENT physician do at the first appointment?

Answer: Typically, you will fill out paperwork that gives the doctor an outline of your current health and health history during the first appointment. You will list any medications you take and how often you take them. Once the doctor has a clear idea of who you are and why you are there, they will thoroughly examine your ears, nose, and throat.

 Depending on the examination findings, the doctor will move forward with any further examinations or treatments that you might need.

How does an ENT remove ear wax?

Answer: Depending on the severity of the earwax buildup and what is causing it, the doctor can remove wax in several different ways. In most cases, the specialist can use a hand-sized, curved instrument called a curette inserted into the ear canal and used to pull out any loose wax.

Another popular way that a doctor can remove ear wax is to put loosening drops into the ear, and after a 20-minute wait, they use a bulb or a large syringe with warm water to rinse the ear canal and gently force the wax away.

What do ENT physicians treat?

Answer:  Otolaryngologists, also called ear, nose, and throat or ENT specialists, treat diseases and injuries affecting the ear, nose, and throat, as well as the head and neck, including allergies and colds, acute or chronic sinus infections, head and neck injuries, snoring, and sleep apnea.  See a link to our ENT services page here.

What is sinusitis?

Answer: Sinusitis is the inflammation and swelling of the sinuses’ tissue lining. The sinuses are four paired cavities (spaces) in the head that are connected by narrow channels. The sinuses make thin mucus that drains out of the media of the nose. This drainage helps keep the nose clean and free of bacteria.  The symptoms of sinusitis are:

  • Nasal inflammation
  • Thick, discolored discharge from the nose (runny nose)
  • Drainage down the back of the throat (postnasal drainage)
  • Blocked or stuffy (congested) nose causing difficulty breathing through your nose
  • Pain, tenderness, and swelling around your eyes, cheeks, nose, or forehead

What are the symptoms of chronic sinusitis?

Answer:  Chronic sinusitis occurs when the spaces inside your nose and head (sinuses) are swollen and inflamed for three months or longer, despite treatment. This interferes with the way mucus usually drains and makes your nose stuffy. You may have trouble breathing, and the area around your nose and forehead can be painful. Chronic sinusitis can be brought on by an infection, by growths in the sinuses (nasal polyps), or by swelling of the lining of your sinuses and affects both adults and children.

What are the treatment options for chronic sinusitis?

Answer: There are several treatment options for chronic sinusitis.  See our chronic sinusitis information page for more details. 

How do ear tubes work?

Answer: The purpose of ear tubes is to help excess fluid drain out of the ears, which helps to reduce the risk of infection.  The tubes are positioned in the eardrum through a small hole that allows drainage. This opening reduces pressure and provides ventilation in the ear, promoting healing and reducing the risk of infection.

What happens during ear tube surgery?

Answer: Ear tube placement is one of the most common surgical procedures for children between 6 months to 2 ½ years. It is a fast procedure that only takes a few minutes.

This is what happens during ear tube surgery:

  • A mask is used to deliver anesthesia to the child, so they are still calm and don’t experience pain during the procedure.
  • A microscope and a small blade create a small incision in the eardrum.
  • Next, the surgeon places a tiny tube in this incision.
  • Ear drops are dropped in.
  • This process is repeated in the other ear.

Not only is this treatment quick and easy, but the child won’t feel the tubes after the surgery. Most kids feel better the next day and return to normal daily activities.

How many ear infections indicate a need for ear tubes?

Answer:  Ear infections can be expected in children, causing the child to experience pain and the parent to experience concern. However, just because your child has one ear infection doesn’t mean you need to talk to an ENT about ear tubes.

The frequency and pattern of ear infections indicate a need for tube placement. The most common guidelines for deciding whether ear tubes are as follows:

  • Three occurrences of ear infections in six months
  • Or four ear infections in a year

Instead of simply counting ear infections to determine if ear tubes are needed, it’s more critical for the ENT to look at other factors, such as hearing loss or chronic fluid behind the eardrum.

What is sleep apnea?

Answer:  When a person has sleep apnea, their breathing temporarily stops while they are sleeping. The airways collapse, blocking the ability of the air to move through. Sleep apnea is when it cuts off oxygen in the body. As a result, the body wakes up, so the breathing is restored to normal. Unfortunately, some people experience this loss of oxygen as often as 30 times an hour. Not only does sleep apnea interfere with the quality of your sleep each night, but the reduced amount of oxygen and poor sleep quality can cause many other long-term health risks, such as:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Depression
  • And more

If you think you may have sleep apnea, book an appointment with an ENT to conduct a sleep study. 

How do you know if you need a CPAP machine?

Answer:  If you experience the following during sleep, you may be a candidate for a CPAP machine:

  • Snoring
  • Gasping or choking
  • Ongoing fatigue
  • Sore throat or dry mouth
  • Irritability

What are the signs and symptoms of tonsillitis?

Answer:  While a sore throat is often the first symptom of tonsillitis, there are other coinciding symptoms that parents should watch for when their child is sick. Here are a few signs that might indicate your child’s sore throat is something more:

  • Swallowing causes pain
  • Red coloring inside the throat
  • Fever
  • Visible pustules or blisters on the tonsils
  • Tonsils look swollen
  • Lymph nodes in the neck are tender or swollen
  • Earache
  • Runny nose or sinus congestion
  • Lethargy or fatigue

Watch for other potential symptoms in young infants, such as drooling, unusual fussiness, or refusal to eat. If you notice any of these symptoms, the next step is to talk to an ENT doctor.