8 Reasons to See an Ear, Nose and Throat Doctor

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Throat check

If your nose is stuffy and you have an earache, an ENT—ear, nose and throat doctor—may be the specialist you should see. Pain in your face, trouble swallowing, dizziness, snoring, and hearing problems are others signs you need to see this type of doctor. ENTs treat conditions that affect your ears, nose, throat, sinuses and mouth, as well as parts of your neck.

Here's why an appointment with an ENT might be right for you:

1. If you have a chronic sinus infection.

Your sinuses are open spaces in the bones behind your nose and around your eyes. Mucus in the sinuses filters the air you breathe and drains through your nose. An infection can develop if mucus gets blocked and can’t drain properly. Viruses, bacteria, or other germs can cause sinus infections—or sinusitis. Then, you can become congested and have pain or pressure in your face.

An ENT can diagnose and treat these common infections. The doctor can prescribe medicine to ease pain and congestion. He or she can also explain what you can do to keep sinus infections from developing.

2. If you have laryngitis.

A raspy, strained or hoarse voice is a sign of laryngitis. People sometimes lose their voice when they have a bad cold. But if this lasts longer than six weeks, another health issue may be to blame. An ENT can look for the source of the problem.

Swelling, lumps or growths on your vocal cords can lead to changes in your voice. Voice strain, smoking, injuries, and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) can cause this, too. Cancer also can lead to changes in your voice. So, it’s important not to delay seeing a doctor when voice changes persist.

An ENT will examine your voice box to figure out what’s causing your laryngitis. Then, the doctor can determine the best way to treat it. You may need to take steroids or antibiotics. An ENT also may suggest ways to ease laryngitis such as resting your voice, using a humidifier, drinking plenty of fluids, and not whispering.

3. If you have an ear infection.

Ear infections are very common in children, but they also affect adults. Ear infections often involve inflammation of the middle ear. This happens when an allergy or infection causes mucus and germs to build up behind your eardrum. The result is often pain and trouble hearing. A severe ear infection can cause your eardrum to burst. A tumor or growth in the throat can also cause adult earaches.

ENTs have special tools to look deep inside the ear. They can also run tests to find out if there's fluid or too much pressure in your ear. Your ENT may prescribe medicine to clear up an ear infection. The doctor also might suggest some home remedies, such as placing a moist, warm compress over your ear to ease pain. Treating ear infections early on can keep them from spreading or leading to complications.

4. If you have tonsillitis.

Your tonsils are the two round lumps in the back of your throat. They're actually part of your immune system. Tonsils are similar to your adenoids, which sit at the back of your nasal cavity. You can’t see or feel your adenoids. An infection in your tonsils—or tonsillitis—can lead to a sore throat and fever.

An ENT can prescribe medicine to treat the infection. The doctor also can offer advice if you get these infections often or have trouble breathing and swallowing. In some cases, an ENT may suggest surgery to remove your tonsils or adenoids.

5. If you have sleep apnea.

Many people snore. But, if you snore loudly and constantly wake up during the night, you may have obstructive sleep apnea. These wake-ups are the result of temporary stops in your breathing. Sleep apnea can make you feel exhausted during the day and not able to function normally. Left untreated, apnea can lead to serious health issues, including high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease.

An ENT may suggest you sleep with a device that keeps your airways open. The doctor may also talk with you about lifestyle changes that can help, like losing weight and not smoking.

6. If you have hearing loss.

Hearing loss is more common among older people, but it can affect anyone. Muffled sounds, trouble hearing someone in a crowd, and ringing in the ear—or tinnitus—are often warning signs of hearing loss. Wax build-up in your ear can make it hard to hear regardless of your age. Infections, loud noises, head injuries, heart problems, and some medicines also can cause hearing loss.

If you have trouble hearing or you lose hearing in one ear, make an appointment with an ENT. This doctor can diagnose and treat the problem. Treatment could involve removing wax from the ear or surgically repairing an ear injury. Or, it could mean prescribing a hearing aid or implant to help restore your hearing.

7. If you have vertigo.

If you feel dizzy, you could have vertigo. You might feel like you're swaying or spinning, even when you're standing still. The inner ear helps control your balance. An infection or other problem with the inner ear can lead to vertigo. Other medical issues that affect the brain also can cause this condition.

Treatment for vertigo depends on what's causing it. An ENT has the training to find the cause and help you manage the condition. Sometimes this involves taking medication, doing certain exercises, or changing your diet. For instance, you might need to limit caffeine and alcohol, drink more water, or take in less salt.

8. If you have swollen lymph nodes.

Infections can cause temporary lymph node swelling that shows up as lumps in your neck or throat. Swollen lymph nodes that don’t go away after more than two weeks could be a sign of another health issue. This can be the case even if they're not painful. Lymph nodes in your neck that gradually get bigger could be an early sign of certain types of cancer, including cancers of the mouth, throat, and thyroid gland.

An ENT can order tests to diagnose the cause of lymph node swelling. This may include biopsies, ultrasound exams, or other imaging tests. Don’t ignore warning signs or symptoms or put off seeing an ENT. If it is cancer, it is usually easier to treat when it’s found early.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 22
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