Is your life dominated by any of these upper-body symptoms?
- runny nose
- post-nasal drip in the back of the throat
- ear pain
- sore throat
- loss of voice
- difficulty swallowing
- sinus pain and/or pressure
- loss of hearing or ringing in ears
- congestion, inability to breathe through the nose
- chronic, loud snoring
Any of the above problems is cause for you to consult with your primary doctor.
But, if you should have symptoms like these that don't go away, you will want to set up an appointment with an ENT (Ear, Nose, Throat) specialist. These types of physicians are experts in all the above as well as anything that has to do with the head and neck area.
How do you know if your issues are chronic enough to see an ENT specialist?
What Is an ENT Specialist?
An Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist, also known as an Otolaryngologist, is a medical doctor who has received specialized training in ear, nose, and throat problems. These docs are also surgeons, and often perform delicate operations to fix sinus, ear, or neck/ throat complications.
Although a primary care doctor can often help with the occasional sinus, ear or throat infections, an ENT is the go-to physician if you suffer from frequent or severe problems with your head, neck, and facial area.
Let's look at some chronic conditions that require visiting an ENT specialist.
Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinus cavities, which can be caused by something as simple as the common cold. If a bacterial infection is a cause, antibiotics are usually the answer, but if you experience congestion, headache, or loss of smell or taste for more than two weeks, it's time to call the ENT.
The ENT will check for any obstruction in the nose and will be able to treat the source of your sinusitis with drugs or surgery if needed.
Chronic Ear Infections
Ear infections occur when the eustachian tubes that connect one part of the ear to another become blocked, again, usually due to a cold or other infection. This is a common occurrence in toddlers, who have much smaller tubes than adults.
Treatment is usually a lengthy course of antibiotics, though some people have to have synthetic tubes inserted surgically in the ear to clear out the infection and widen the area to prevent further problems.
Chronic Ringing in the Ear
Ringing in the ear, known as Tinnitus, affects over 50 million adults in the United States and is often associated with hearing loss. A special ENT can evaluate the cause of the ringing, and prescribe medication or coping mechanisms, as well as recommend hearing aids.
Loss of voice or hoarseness that lasts more than 3 weeks is considered chronic and should be seen by an ENT. This condition is often caused by irritants such as smoke, acid reflux, constant clearing of the throat, or nodules on the vocal cords.
An ENT can examine the throat and voice box to determine if surgery is necessary, but most of the time, this condition can be cured with a change in lifestyle.
Chronic Snoring and Sleep Apnea
If you or your partner snore loud and long every night, it is worth seeing and ENT to determine if you have sleep apnea, a condition that can cause you to stop breathing while asleep. The ENT can check for obstructions in your nose or throat and can run tests to see what is causing the snoring.
Treatment can be an oral appliance to wear at night, or a CPAP machine, which helps keep airways open.
Chronic Strep Throat or Tonsil Infections
A strep infection in the throat that just won't go away or consistently swollen and painful tonsils are both problems that need to be brought to your ENT so that these infections do not evolve into more serious conditions.
Surgical removal of the tonsils is a common treatment for these infections, as well as long-term medications.
Chronic Dizziness or Loss of Balance
Known as vertigo, this condition causes mild to severe dizziness, loss of balance, and can be accompanied by migraines and nausea. ENT's can diagnose the cause of vertigo, and help control the symptoms with medication, steroids, and other methods.
Lumps in Head or Neck
Any lump found in this area should be checked by an ENT, so that possible cancers can be ruled out, or found quickly and treated. Inflammation of the thyroid gland, in the throat (sometimes called a goiter,) is very common and can easily be diagnosed and treated with medication.
ENT docs often do plastic or reconstructive surgery on the face as the result of trauma or accident, but there are cosmetic reasons for this kind of operation as well.
Cleft palate, a common birth defect in children, is one such type of operation, as well as eyelid lift surgery in adults.
What to Expect at the ENT Specialist
An ENT will take an inventory of your symptoms, and will examine your nose, ears, and throat. The instruments used for the exam may seem strange or invasive but should cause you little-to-no discomfort. The ENT will also palpate your head and neck area to check for lumps or obstructions. In some cases, an X-ray or CT scan might be warranted.
Make sure you tell your ENT when your symptoms began, and bring a list of all medications and supplements you currently take to your initial appointment.
Find an ENT Near You
Now that you know what an ENT specialist does, it's time to find one near you, especially if you are a parent, as children often benefit from ENT consults at least once in their young lives.
In addition to reading online reviews, ask friends and family for a recommendation for an excellent ENT for you and your family, as word of mouth is often the best advertisement.
You can rest assured knowing that, along with your ENT specialist, you have taken charge of your upper body health!