Luke Andera, M.D.
Otolaryngology (ENT)/Head and Neck Surgery
Speaking of Health6 common questions about earaches and ear infectionsJuly 18, 2022
8 reasons to visit an ENT specialist
Otorhinolaryngology is the medical specialty that focuses on consultation, diagnosis and treatment of ear, nose and neck disorders. Because otorhinolaryngology is hard to pronounce and even harder to spell, most patients refer to otorhinolaryngologists as ear, nose and throat, or ENT, providers.
There are many reasons a person would benefit from an appointment with an ENT provider.
Here are the 8 most common conditions treated:
1. Chronic ear infections
This condition is an infection in the air-filled space behind the eardrum. Some people are more prone to getting ear infections. Kids 6 months to 2 years are most susceptible to infections because of the size and shape of their middle ears and eustachian tubes.
Often ear infections are a result of another illness that causes congestion and swelling, such as a cold, flu or allergies. Ear infections can be painful, and cause impaired hearing, fever, headache and loss of balance.
If your child develops multiple ear infections, it may be time to talk with an ENT provider. Ear infections can affect their ability to hear clearly, so recurrent infections could result in speech, social and developmental delays.
Ear tubes are a common treatment for chronic ear infections. During this procedure, an ENT surgeon creates a tiny hole in the eardrum to suction out fluid from the middle ear. Then a tiny tube is placed in the opening to ventilate the ear and prevent the buildup of fluid in the future. Usually, tubes remain in place for four to 18 months and will fall out on their own.
2. Hearing loss
If you find yourself turning up the volume on your devices or feel like voices are too soft or mumbling, it may be time to talk with an ENT provider about your hearing. ENT providers work together with audiologists to discover the cause of your hearing loss, ranging from ear infection and a buildup of earwax to ruptured eardrum or damage to your inner ear.
Also, if you notice rapid hearing loss all at once or over a few days, you should be evaluated by an ENT provider and audiologist within a few days to a week after noticing the hearing loss. This may be related to what is called "sudden sensorineural hearing loss."
3. Dizziness or vertigo
Many body systems, including your inner ear, must work together to maintain balance. About 30% of people in the U.S. experience dizziness or vertigo at some point in their lives. It could be a short-term concern, such as occurring after standing up too quickly, when taking a medication or during a migraine.
The most common cause of vertigo is when calcium crystals in your inner ear become dislodged from their normal position. This is called "benign paroxysmal positional vertigo." People often experience symptoms with changes in head position, such as bending over, looking up or rolling over in bed. An ENT provider can help develop a treatment plan to steady your footing and ease your symptoms.
4. Ringing in the ears
Tinnitus is commonly referred to as ringing in the ears. This is a recurrent ear or head noise with no external source that lasts longer than five minutes and happens more than once per week. For some people, tinnitus can be extremely bothersome and negatively affect the quality of their lives. While there is no cure for tinnitus, an ENT provider can help with many management strategies to decrease your perception of the ringing sound.
5. Chronic stuffy nose
Sinusitis occurs when your sinuses become swollen and inflamed. This swelling interferes with the way mucus normally drains and makes your nose stuffy. You may find it difficult to breathe through your nose, have discolored discharge from your nose or feel tender around the eyes. Long-lasting sinusitis, also called "chronic sinusitis," is classified by a history of sinus infections that don't respond to treatment or symptoms that last longer than three months.
Common causes of chronic sinusitis include nasal polyps, deviated nasal septum, repeated respiratory infections, allergies or complications of other conditions. An ENT provider can help determine the best treatment option to help ease your symptoms including medications, antibiotics or surgery.
6. Chronic sore throat or tonsillitis
Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils, two oval-shaped pads of tissue at the back of the throat. Symptoms include swollen tonsils, sore throat, difficulty swallowing and tender lymph nodes on the sides of the neck.
Because appropriate treatment for tonsillitis depends on the cause, it's important to get a prompt and accurate diagnosis. Surgery to remove tonsils, once a common procedure to treat tonsillitis, is usually performed only when tonsillitis occurs frequently, doesn't respond to other treatments or causes serious complications.
7. Lumps in the neck/enlarged lymph nodes
Your lymph nodes, also called lymph glands, play a vital role in your body's ability to fight off infections. You have many lymph nodes in your head and neck. They can become swollen or feel tender, usually due to an infection from bacteria or virus.
Most swollen lymph nodes get better on their own within a few weeks, but you should talk with an ENT provider if the lumps get bigger; are present for more than two weeks; feel hard or rubbery; appear for no apparent reason; are associated with chronic sore throat or voice changes; or you are experiencing a fever, night sweats or unexplained weight loss.
8. Sleep apnea
Sleep apnea is a serious condition where you repeatedly stop breathing or breathe shallowly while sleeping. When this happens, you may snore loudly or make choking noises as you try to breathe. Your brain and body become oxygen-deprived, and you may wake up. More than 18 million adults in the U.S. have sleep apnea, and many cases are undiagnosed.
An ENT provider may request that you complete a sleep study to measure how well you sleep and how your body responds to sleep problems. This test can help your health care team find out if you have a sleep disorder, how severe it is and the best treatment option for you.
Luke Andera, M.D., is a physician in Ear, Nose & Throat in La Crosse and Onalaska, Wisconsin.