What is Otolaryngology?

When a friend is feeling a dull ache in their ear canal, one might tell them to go to an ear doctor. Or maybe a colleague has complained of a sore throat with a ragged voice for the last month. In this case, perhaps this colleague would then seek out a physician specializing in the throat. How about a sinus problem? Interestingly enough, in most cases, a single specialist would be able to address each of these areas of concern.

Otolaryngology is a medical and surgical subspecialty that’s concerned with the medical assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of issues of the ears, nose, and throat. Essentially, it combines the three fields of otology (of the ear), rhinology (of the nose), and laryngology (of the neck/throat). Professionals in the field are also known as ENTs. Otolaryngology is a discipline in medicine that also deals with related anatomical systems of the head and neck that might be affected by disorders of the ears, nose, and throat.

The American Board of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, a founding member of the non-profit organization the American Board of Medical Specialities (ABMS), certifies otolaryngology professionals nationwide. Their organization is the American authority on the growth, peer review, and implementation of cutting-edge otorhinolaryngological treatments and knowledge.

The following report covers the daily responsibilities of otolaryngologists, specializations in the field, and how professionals become licensed and certified. Additionally, it looks at accreditation bodies and otolaryngology associations. Finally, it provides a list of otolaryngology journals, databases, references, and resources.

What Do Otolaryngologists (ENT Specialists) Do?

Otolaryngologists assess and treat the nature of conditions of the ear, nose, and throat. They might specialize in and perform cosmetic surgery as well. If it’s the ears that’s their focus, they can treat conditions that cause hearing loss, infection, dizziness, and tinnitus.

Pediatric otolaryngologists are trained to diagnose and treat young children who may have trouble communicating their symptoms, while immunologically-focused otolaryngologists help to treat environmental allergies like dander, pollen, or dust. A traditional laryngologist is an expert on the voice and the vocal cords and often overlaps with the work of a speech-language pathologist, assisting in the diagnosis of swallowing problems. A rhinologist, an expert of the nose, knows the signs of cancer of the mouth, sinuses, voice box, and esophagus, and treat patients with these kinds of conditions.

An otolaryngologist-head and neck doctor is a medical professional who is an expert on the otological, respiratory, and alimentary human systems. They possess deep knowledge of the anatomy of the head and neck and diseases and disorders affecting the ears, nose, and throat. Specialization is key to every otolaryngological role, as the very nature of the position involves working with very small, easily-damaged organs. Additionally, the subjects of audiology, speech-language pathology, neurotology, neurology, endocrinology, and the latest in communication sciences is a must for these professionals. They need to understand the causes, proper assessment, and treatment of neoplasm, deformity, disorder, and injury of the respiratory system, including its connections to the upper alimentary and sinus systems.

Otolaryngologists often find themselves in the role of what is called a microsurgeon. The number of surgical otolaryngology applications are as numerous as the variety of problems that can befall patients. They perform microvascular reconstruction or neurotologic adjustments. As surgeons specializing in endoscopic techniques, surgical otolaryngologists might also find themselves treating sinus diseases and conditions. Regardless, the intricate construction of the human head means that highly-trained professionals will always be in demand.

Otolaryngology (ENT) Specializations

As the field encompasses conditions of the ear, nose, and throat, there are a number of specializations in the field. They include subspecialities where physicians focus on highly-specific anatomical ENT (ear-nose-throat) regions. Additionally, some go on to specialize further.

Otolaryngology (head and neck specialization) encompasses a handful of distinct and targeted subspecialties, sometimes involving surgery of the otological, alimentary, or respiratory systems. Areas of specialization include:

  • Head and neck, oncology
  • Microvascular surgery
  • Allergens / immunology
  • Facial plastic and reconstructive surgery
  • Otology / neurotology
  • Pediatric otolaryngology
  • Rhinology, often involving sinus surgery

Otolaryngology (ENT) Certification

As mentioned above, professional otolaryngologists are licensed and certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, a founding member of the non-profit organization the American Board of Medical Specialities (ABMS).

The otolaryngology certification involves two parts: a qualifying exam available in the fall of each year, and an oral certification exam. The oral exam can only be taken if the qualifying exam was completed with a satisfactory grade. Applicants are given three consecutive chances to pass the oral exam. Students must reapply to take the written exam if a passing score on the oral exam is not achieved after three attempts.

Candidates can maintain their certification through the American Academy of Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery (AAO-HNS) via its many useful study guides and certification courses.

Otolaryngology (ENT) Accreditation Bodies & Organizations

Because of the high level of specialization required by the occupation, it is the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education that accredits otolaryngology degree programs in the United States.

The two officially-recognized subspecialities of otolaryngology are neurotology and pediatric otolaryngology. As listed above, however, those specialities subdivide even further when it comes to breaking down whether or not it is a matter for an otologist, rhinologist, or laryngologist, and the age of the patient.

Otolaryngology Resources & Journals

Beyond the otolaryngologist’s office is a rich and highly-collaborative field that has been publishing research since the 19th century. Specialists come together to conduct studies and hold conferences, all with the aim of refining the field’s practices, especially the standards by which otolaryngological expertise is judged. Below are listed a number of otolaryngology journals and online resources, including research publications, education modules, digital journals, and image and scan reference pages.

ENT Journals

  • American Journal of Otolaryngology
  • Auris Nasus Larynx: International Journal of ORL & HNS
  • Journal of Otolaryngology-Research
  • Seminars in Hearing
  • The Hearing Journal
  • Ear and Hearing: Journal of the American Auditory Society
  • Head and Neck
  • Clinical Otolaryngology
  • Rhinology International Journal
  • The Laryngoscope
  • The Journal of Laryngology and Otology
  • Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education
  • International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology
  • JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery
  • European Archives of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology
  • International Forum of Allergy and Rhinology
  • International Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • Otolaryngology @ the American Medical Association
  • Journal of Otolaryngology Research
  • Otology & Neurotology
  • Journal of Otolaryngology Research-ENT Research
  • International Journal of Otolaryngology
  • Journal of Cranio-Maxillofacial Surgery

Other ENT Resources

Kenneth Parker

Kenneth Parker


Kenneth is a feature writer, poet, and musician living in the Pacific Northwest. His writing on remote work, education, and technology has been published by BustedCubicle.com, MedicalTechnologySchools.com, and other websites. His poetry, short fiction, and album reviews have appeared in Scifaikuest, Nanoism, and No Clean Singing. His background includes time spent as an associate editor, proofreader, private grammar instructor, freelance content editor, medical claims agent, and SEO consultant. He is a graduate of the University of Oregon, where he studied literature and worked as a composition tutor.

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