The Role of the Ear Nose and Throat Specialist
The ear, nose and throat specialist, also known by the more formal and less pronounceable title of otorhinolaryngologist and most commonly as an ENT doctor, has a variety of responsibilities. Alternatively referred to as head and neck surgeons, the latter title better describes the extensive nature of their chosen specialism. In fact, theirs is a discipline that may be divided into a number of sub-specialities, including facial reconstructive surgery, oncology and otology to name just three. Some may elect to work entirely with paediatric patients for whom investigation and treatments require an alternative approach and a new skillset.
Today, one of the most frequent areas in which the opinion or intervention of an ear, nose and throat specialist may be sought is in the investigation of hearing loss. Babies and young children are among the most frequent visitors to an ENT practice, and ear infections of one kind or another are the most common reason behind those visits. While such infections will often result in some degree of deafness, it is usually of a temporary nature and is reversed once the infection begins to subside following the correct regimen of treatment.
Repeated infections may become chronic, whereupon there is more cause for concern since any concurrent deafness is more likely to be permanent. In such cases, one of the more important roles of the ear, nose and throat specialist is to determine the underlying cause for this susceptibility to infection and then to implement appropriate corrective measures.
Frequently, the seat of these infections is to be found within certain components of the immune system. Known as the tonsils and adenoids, they consist of paired lumps of soft tissue, rich in immune cells, and serve to trap ingested or inhaled bacteria and viruses. They vary in size and are located at the back of the mouth and the upper part of the back of the nasal cavity respectively. Over time, they may also succumb to infection, becoming inflamed and enlarged necessitating surgical removal, usually by an ear, nose and throat specialist.
In other cases, the causes of repeated infection may be a narrowing or obstruction of the Eustachian tubes that would normally allow the drainage and ventilation required for recovery. In such cases, the surgeon may choose to perform a myringotomy. In this procedure, a tiny incision is made in the eardrum through which a tiny tympanostomy tube or grommet is then inserted. In the short term, this allows the release of pus due to the current infection while, in the longer term, it provides the improved ventilation that is needed to reduce the chance of a recurrence.
A routine ear examination will often suggest that referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist is advisable and at our Ear Institute centres, we are often called upon to do so. While unable to provide such a service from all 20 of our branches, at our Flagship centres in the major cities, we are able to offer our patients the services of a resident ENT doctor without the need for referral and perhaps a lengthy delay.
Your hearing is important to you. Protecting it where possible and managing it where necessary is a responsibility that we share with the ear, nose and throat specialist.