What is otorhinolaryngology?

Otorhinolaryngology is a medical specialty that focuses on the ears, nose, and throat. It is also sometimes referred to as Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, as otolaryngologists are qualified to perform surgery on the delicate and complex tissues of the head and neck. An ENT practitioner may also be called an ear, nose, and throat doctor or otolaryngologist. In addition to the general medical specialty of otolaryngology, physicians may also focus on a variety of subspecialties that address specific regions of the head and neck or particular systemic medical problems.

This medical specialty dates back to the 19th century, when doctors recognized that the head and neck had a series of interconnected systems. Physicians developed techniques and tools to look at the structures of the head and neck, and a medical specialty was born. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, this specialty is the oldest medical specialty in the United States. The Academy also maintains an extensive museum covering ENT topics dating back to the ancient Greek era.

An otolaryngologist who specializes in the nose is known as a rhinologist, while otolaryngologists who focus on the ears are called otologists. An otolaryngologist may also focus only on disorders of the throat, in which case the doctor is called a laryngologist. Others specialize in reconstructive surgery, facial plastic surgery, sleep disorders, pediatric ear, nose, and throat conditions, and head and neck cancers. ENT doctors use tools such as otoscopes and laryngoscopes to examine their patients; These medical devices have also spread to other medical practices as they are useful diagnostic tools.

Patients can go directly to a doctor trained in otolaryngology if they experience medical conditions that affect the head and neck. Other doctors may also refer patients to an otolaryngologist if they feel they cannot treat the patient's condition. Some pediatric otolaryngology and reconstructive surgery doctors also generously donate their time abroad to repair common medical problems, such as cleft lip and palate, in the developing world.

Training in this medical specialty includes four years of medical school, followed by a short residency in general surgery and then a residency focusing on head and neck surgery. Physicians who wish to pursue subspecialties must take fellowships that offer additional training. Once fully trained, an otolaryngologist may apply for board certification in the specialty, although board certification is not required for medical practice.

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