An otolaryngologist, or ENT, is a healthcare specialist who treats conditions affecting your ears, nose and throat. They can also perform head and neck surgeries, including surgeries on your ears, mouth, throat, nose, neck and face.

What is an otolaryngologist?

An otolaryngologist (pronounced “ot-o-lar-en-GA-le-jist”) is a healthcare provider that diagnoses and treats conditions affecting your head and neck. Otolaryngologists offer both nonsurgical and surgical treatments.

Otolaryngologists are specialists. First, they must complete their undergraduate education and apply for medical school. Following graduation from a licensed medical school, a doctor who wants to become an otolaryngologist must undergo five more years of residency training in their chosen field. Some otolaryngologists even choose to pursue further education in subspecialties like pediatric otolaryngology and reconstructive surgery.

ENT vs. otolaryngologist

Another name for an otolaryngologist is ENT, which stands for “ear, nose and throat.” Both terms mean the same thing. “ENT” is the more common term, probably because it’s easier to remember. But “otolaryngologist” is the medical term for this type of specialist.

Most otolaryngologists prefer the term “otolaryngologist” because it recognizes that they treat much more than conditions of the ear, nose and throat.

What does an otolaryngologist do?

An otolaryngologist diagnoses and treats conditions affecting your head and neck. These conditions range from mild (such as a cough and runny nose) to serious (such as head and neck cancer).

Because an otolaryngologist treats such a wide range of conditions and diseases, they’re trained to perform both nonsurgical and surgical treatments.

Why would you see an otolaryngologist?

There are many reasons why someone might need to see an otolaryngologist. Your primary care physician (PCP) may refer you to an otolaryngologist if you develop certain symptoms, including:

What diseases does an ENT diagnose?

An ENT diagnoses and treats infections and diseases of your ears, nose and throat. But they also treat a wide range of other conditions affecting your head and neck region.

Ear conditions

Otolaryngologists treat ear conditions, including:

  • Ear infections, including those in your outer, middle or inner ear.
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in your ears.
  • Dizziness, a feeling of unbalance which often results from inner ear disorders.
  • Vertigo. Different from dizziness, vertigo is when you have a sensation that your surroundings are spinning.
  • Ruptured eardrum, or a hole in your tympanic membrane.
  • Eustachian tube dysfunction, when the tubes that connect your middle ears to your upper throat become blocked.
  • Otosclerosis, or abnormal bone growth in your middle ear.
  • Ménière’s disease, a rare inner ear disorder that affects your hearing and sense of balance.
  • Hearing loss, which can range from mild to severe.
Nose conditions

Common nose conditions that otolaryngologists treat include:

  • Sinusitis, which is inflammation or infection of your sinuses (air passages around your nose and forehead that drain mucus).
  • Allergies, which can result from pollen, pet dander or other environmental irritants.
  • Rhinitis, or inflammation of the mucus membranes that line your nose.
  • Nosebleeds, which may result from infections, allergies or trauma, among other things.
  • Postnasal drip, which happens when excess mucus builds up and drips down the back of your throat.
  • Deviated septum, a condition in which your septum (the cartilage that separates your nasal cavity) is off-center.
  • Nasal polyps, which are noncancerous growths common in people with chronic allergies, asthma or sinus infections.
  • Nasal and paranasal tumors. Tumors inside your nose may be cancerous or noncancerous.
Throat conditions

Otolaryngologists also treat throat conditions, including:

Sleep disorders

Otolaryngologists commonly treat sleep-related conditions, including:

  • Snoring. Severe snoring can occur when the soft tissues in your upper airway relax too much during sleep. When air moves through these narrowed tissues, it results in loud vibrations.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea. This type of sleep apnea happens as a result of relaxed tissues in your airway. Your airway can narrow or close off completely, leading to apneic episodes (where you temporarily stop breathing during sleep).
Tumors of your head and neck

Otolaryngologists can surgically treat head and neck tumors (both cancerous and noncancerous). Examples include:

  • Hemangiomas. These noncancerous growths contain extra blood vessels. Anyone can get hemangiomas, but they’re most common in newborn babies.
  • Salivary gland tumors, which may be cancerous or noncancerous.
  • Oral cancer, the most common form of head and neck cancer. It can affect your lips, inner cheeks, tongue and floor or roof of your mouth.
  • Oropharyngeal cancer, which affects the middle part of your throat. The most common type of oropharyngeal cancer is squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Laryngeal cancer, which affects your larynx (voice box).
  • Nasopharyngeal cancer, which affects your nasopharynx — the upper part of your throat that connects your nose to the rest of your respiratory system.
  • Thyroid cancer, which affects your thyroid gland. Your thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that makes hormones.


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Do many people need treatment from an otolaryngologist?

Otolaryngology is one of the most common healthcare specialties. In the U.S., approximately 27 million people visit the otolaryngologist each year.

What’s a board-certified otolaryngologist?

A board-certified otolaryngologist has received additional, voluntary training to hone their skills and demonstrate commitment to their profession. To become board certified, an otolaryngologist must undergo vigorous testing, including written, oral and clinical examinations.

For otolaryngologists in the U.S., the American Board of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery (ABOHNS) grants board certification.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

An otolaryngologist, or ENT, is a medical specialist who diagnoses and treats conditions affecting your head and neck. You might need to see an otolaryngologist if you have chronic issues with your ears, nose or throat. If you develop persistent symptoms, schedule an appointment with an otolaryngologist, or ask for a referral from your primary care provider.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 01/20/2023.

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