What is an Otolaryngologist?

An otolaryngologist head-and-neck surgeon or ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon is a Doctor of Medicine who specializes in disorders of the head and neck, particularly disorders relating to the ear, nose and throat. The word “oto-rhino-laryngology” comes from the Greek words “oto” for the ear, “rhino” for the nose and “larynx” for the throat. Over the years, otolaryngology has expanded its area of expertise from the ear, nose and throat to a “regional” specialty of the head and neck which includes subspecialization in otology, neurotology, rhinology (which includes disease of the sinuses), laryngology, plastic surgery of the head and neck, tumour and cancer surgery of the head and neck, pediatric otolaryngology and allergic disorders of the upper respiratory system.

What Does it Take to Become an Otolaryngologist?

An otolaryngologist has to undergo a minimum of 12 years of study and training at a university medical school. Training consists of six years of undergraduate education at a medical school followed by a year of internship. Doctors aspiring to become an otolaryngologist need to complete five years or more of clinical specialty training at a university. Towards the end of the specialty-training period the candidate needs to pass the certification examination set by the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa (CMSA) to finally receive a fellowship from the College of Otorhinolaryngologists of South Africa (FCORL (SA)). Fellows complying with the requirements set by the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) to register as a specialist will receive designation as an otolaryngologist. Some individuals may pursue a further one or two year training period to establish a career in a subspecialty.

What Do Otolaryngologists Do?

Otolaryngologists perform a great variety of surgical procedures in the daily treatment of conditions affecting the ears, nose, sinuses, oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, neck, thyroid, salivary glands, bronchial tubes and esophagus, as well as cosmetic surgery of the head and neck region.

Otolaryngologists trained in ear surgery are well equipped to restore hearing through modern microsurgery. Surgical techniques may also cure ear disease and infections, and repair deformities presenting in the ear since birth. Dedicated otologists who are specifically trained in cochlear implantation surgery, may provide profoundly deaf patients or patients who are hard of hearing with a sense of sound, by implanting technologically highly advanced devices into the ear.

The technique of functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS) revolutionized surgery of the sinuses. During endoscopic sinus surgery an endoscope and modern, refined motorized equipment are used to open the natural pathways to the sinuses to eventually obtain normal healthy sinuses. Endoscopic sinus surgery is also employed to manage nasal passage and sinus pathway blockages caused by septal deviations or turbinate hypertrophy, as well as the surgical management of nasal polyps, nasal tumours and tear duct surgery.

Otolaryngologists’ training includes the planning and execution of the surgery and treatment of benign tumours as well as malignant tumours (cancer) of the head and neck, and the reconstructive techniques necessary to restore function and form in these patients.

With their extensive knowledge of head and neck anatomy and physiology, many otolaryngologists are proficient in facial plastic surgery. Facial plastic surgery encompasses reconstruction of the nose, ears, and facial area to restore function and appearance. Grafts, flaps and man-made materials are inter alia used to solve challenging problems that are difficult to handle by conventional surgical methods. Techniques are also used for cosmetic facial plastic surgery such as face and brow lifts, improving the shape and size of the nose or ear, chin augmentation, wrinkle removal and scar camouflaging.

Otolaryngologists routinely handle cases such as middle ear infections, infected mastoids, tonsillectomies, adenoidectomies, nosebleeds, and sinus disease. Allergic disorders of the upper respiratory system form an integral part of the illnesses that are managed by an otolaryngologist.

Most otolaryngologists will be involved in the management of the causes of hearing loss and speech and communicative disorders.

Others have a special interest in neurotology that focuses on various conditions relating to balance disorders.

ENT surgeons are trained in the surgical and medical treatment of a range of conditions, including:

The ear?

  • Hearing loss
  • Ear infections
  • Balance disorders
  • Ear noise (tinnitus)
  • Injuries of the ear
  • Protruding ears (“bat ears”)

The nose

  • Injuries to the nose
  • Deformities of the nose
  • Cosmetic surgery of the nose (“rhinoplasty”)
  • Sinus infections
  • Nasal allergies (hay fever)
  • Tumours of the nose and sinuses

The throat

  • Inflammations of the throat (e.g. tonsillitis)
  • Adenoidectomy
  • Laryngitis
  • Snoring
  • Voice and swallowing disorders
  • Tumours of the throat and larynx

Head and neck

  • Swellings of the neck
  • Cysts
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Tumours (cancerous and non-cancerous) ?of lymph and salivary glands
  • Facial skin tumours of the head and neck