Otolaryngology is a medical specialty that treats conditions of the ears, nose, and throat. Specialists in this field have training in surgery as well as medicine.
Because otolaryngology involves the ears, nose, and throat, these specialists are known as ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctors.
For an ENT physician, the ear, nose, throat, larynx, and the sinuses are in the scope of treatment areas.
Unlike physicians who can only medically treat conditions involving these areas and structures, ENT doctors can treat and also perform surgery on the structures involved, if necessary.
Surgery will be necessary when non-invasive treatments and medications cannot improve the condition in question.
ENT surgery may also be harnessed to address injuries and deformities.
Among the conditions that ENT doctors can address are:
- Nose infections and injuries
- Ear infections
- Various sleep disorders, including sleep apnea
- Head and neck pain
- Speech and swallowing disorders
ENT doctors can specifically perform these types of procedures:
- Sinus surgery
- Snoring/sleep disorder surgery
- Corrective breathing surgery
- Tonsil removal
Sinus surgery may be the last resort when therapeutics cannot effectively treat chronic sinus infections.
The ENT surgeon performs the procedure to make the sinus openings larger so that they can drain. This procedure optimizes the way the sinuses function and lessens the potential for infection.
Sinus surgery is minimally invasive and is often performed on an outpatient basis. Different types of sinus surgery include:
- Endoscopic sinus surgery in which the ENT physician examines the snus openings for obstructive or unusual growths or tissues, which are then removed.
- Image guided surgery, which combines computed tomography and endoscopy to improve the surgeon’s visualization of the target area. Imagery is very helpful during procedures that are correcting older sinus surgeries or for procedures addressing abnormal sinus anatomy.
- The removal of irreversibly damaged mucosa of the maxillary sinus, which may be undertaken to connect the maxillary sinus, is located under the eye, to the nose to optimize its drainage.
A more common ear surgery is the insertion of a tube into the ear to drain accumulated fluid in the middle ear.
Accumulated fluid is often the cause of chronic infections and can potentially cause hearing issues.
Another type of ear surgery is reconstructive. Tympanoplasty is reconstructive surgery involving the eardrum. In stapedectomy, a surgeon removes at least part of the bone in the middle ear.
Malignancies in the head and neck – such as larynx, oral, and temporal bone cancers - may require ENT surgery. The procedure used may entail reconstructive or micro-blood vessel surgery.
A direct laryngoscopy could be diagnostic or surgical in nature. A scope will be used to examine or operate on the larynx.
This procedure is geared toward those who have vocal cord issues or whose airway has narrowed because of abnormalities, including tumors.
A tracheotomy may be appropriate when one has problems breathing. The ENT surgeon will cut an opening in the wind pipe so that air reaches the lungs.
Another ENT procedure straightens the septum of the nose, which is a structure that separates the nasal cavities.
The septum is composed of thin bone and cartilage. Any abnormalities of the septum, such as its deviation, could inhibit one’s breathing ability. The procedure called septoplasty will best correct the situation.
Some cutting and removal of components of the septum may be required. They are then reinserted in their proper position.
Other procedures include adenoidectomy (removal of the adenoids) and tonsillectomy (removal of the tonsils). Both of these procedures are often performed on pediatric patients.
These surgeries are usually prescribed in cases of chronic inflammation or infection. Sometimes, the tonsils are removed when treating sleep apnea. In such instances, the tonsils obstruct, to some extent, a person’s upper airway.
Reviewed by Susha Cheriyedath, MSc