What does an ENT surgeon do?
The full name is a mouth full: Otorhinolaryngologist, Head and Neck Surgeon. Generally known as an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon or specialist. In short, all diseases in the head and neck except eye, teeth and brain disease can be diagnosed and treated by an ENT surgeon.
This covers a very wide range of diseases and hence you will find that some ENT surgeons will sub-specialize in certain fields of interest, while others treat general ENT problems. ENT surgeons treat patients of all ages.
Common ailments include (but are not limited to) hearing problems, ear infections, dizziness, sinusitis, nasal fractures, allergies, throat pain and infections, voice problems, swallowing disorders, salivary gland disease, mouth diseases, and a wide range of head and neck cancers. In short: If it’s above the collar bone we will try to help! As the name suggests we are trained as surgeons, but treatment often does not include surgery.
In South Africa, ENT surgeons are trained as general practitioners for 6 years, after which a few years are spent working for the state as general doctors. Specialization in ENT takes a further 4-5 years of in-service training, which includes various exams. Ultimately, the ENT surgeon will have trained for 10-12 years in total before he or she can practice as a specialist.
Why such a long training?
As mentioned above, the range of diseases to become acquainted with is very large and this takes a long time to accomplish. A further skill that needs to be learnt is surgery. Working in a confined space such as an ear or nose is very challenging and it takes time to feel comfortable and confident. For this purpose, we utilize instruments such as microscopes and endoscopes to improve our vision of the surgical field and various micro-instruments to access the problem areas. Proper utilization of these instruments have a steep learning curve.
What to expect during a consultation:
A thorough history will be taken after which a general ear, nose and throat examination will normally be done. Depending on your problem the specialist might want to investigate certain areas more thoroughly. For nasal and sinus problems it is common that a rigid or fibre-optic endoscope might be used to visualize the nose better. These might also be used to look at your throat and vocal cords. These painless procedures are used more often in adults, as children sometimes do not enjoy the experience! Additional ear investigations might be needed. The specialist might utilize a microscope to clean ears or remove objects such as wax from the ears. Further hearing evaluation tests might be needed and some of these can be done by the specialist, while others such as an audiogram(hearing test) will need to be done by someone else. All of these investigations are also painless and can actually be quite fun for children.
This will obviously vary according to your disease. It can include counselling, medication, certain body manoeuvres, referral to other medical or paramedical practitioners or surgery.
Your doctor will discuss all these options with you.
In certain cases, a follow-up consultation might be needed. This is the time to ask all your questions – do not leave the rooms wondering what is wrong with you or what is expected of you to improve your symptoms.