Pediatric Otolaryngologist: Your Children's ENT Specialist

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What is a pediatric otolaryngologist?

A pediatric otolaryngologist (pronounced “ōtō-lar-en-gäl-e-jest”), or ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor, specializes in the medical and surgical care of infants, children and adolescents with disorders that affect the ears, nose, throat, head and neck. Pediatric otolaryngologists diagnose and treat a variety of health conditions, including tonsillitis, laryngomalacia (a birth defect), ear infections, and sleep apnea.

A pediatric otolaryngologist typically: 

  • Evaluates a patient's medical history and educates the child and the child’s family about disease prevention

  • Performs exams of the ear, nose, throat, head and neck

  • Performs hearing and speech screenings

  • Orders and interprets laboratory and imaging tests and prescribes medications

  • Diagnoses and treats acute and chronic diseases and conditions that affect the ears, nose, throat, head and neck including ear and throat infections, voice box problems, thyroid disease, and swallowing problems

  • Performs surgical procedures on the ears, nose, throat, head and neck, such as myringotomy (ear tube surgery), tonsillectomy (tonsil removal), and cleft lip and cleft palate repair

A pediatric otolaryngologist may also be known as a pediatric ear, nose, and throat doctor; children’s ENT; ENT for kids; or pediatric ENT.

Who should see a pediatric otolaryngologist?

Many conditions affecting a child’s ears, nose, throat, head or neck, such as occasional tonsillitis or ear infections, can be diagnosed and treated by a pediatrician or family doctor. You child’s primary doctor may recommend that your child seeks care from a pediatric otolaryngologist for more complex or serious problems, such as frequent tonsillitis or ear infections that are difficult to treat. This also includes conditions that cause breathing and swallowing problems; hearing loss and speech difficulties; lumps or growths in the mouth or neck; and pain affecting the ear, nose or throat.

Pediatric otolaryngologists are trained in both medical management and surgery, and do not typically need to refer patients to other doctors when surgery is needed.

When should you see a pediatric otolaryngologist?

Consider seeking care from an experienced pediatric otolaryngologist if your child develops any of the following symptoms or conditions: 

  • Allergy symptoms including itchy eyes, nose, and throat with nasal congestion or discharge

  • Ear pain, pressure and popping; hearing loss; ringing in the ears; dizziness; or ear discharge

  • Facial paralysis or injury due to trauma

  • Heartburn, acid reflux, and nausea

  • Hoarseness that continues to get worse and is accompanied by throat pain and swallowing problems

  • Lump or bump in the neck, mouth, throat, nose or ears

  • Snoring and poor sleep

  • Sore throat, cough, throat clearing, hoarseness, drooling, difficulty swallowing, or bleeding from the mouth

  • Stuffy nose, difficulty breathing, facial pain, loss of smell, or frequent nosebleeds

What conditions and diseases does a pediatric otolaryngologist treat?

A pediatric otolaryngologist treats conditions and diseases including:

  • Ear conditions including ear infections, hearing loss, balance disorders, ruptured eardrum, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), cholesteatoma (abnormal skin growth in the ear), benign (noncancerous) growths, and congenital disorders and deformities of the outer and inner ear

  • Head and neck conditions including tumors of the parotid, thyroid and parathyroid glands; sleep apnea; head or neck masses; hemangiomas (benign blood vessel tumors) and vascular malformations; and facial irregularities, deformities or injuries

  • Nose conditions including sinusitis, deviated septum, chronic or recurring nosebleeds, nasal polyps, nasal obstructions, and loss of smell

  • Speech and hearing problems including hypernasal speech, hearing loss, and vocal cord paralysis or lesions

  • Throat conditions including voice and swallowing problems, pediatric gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), and tonsil and adenoid infections

What tests does a pediatric otolaryngologist perform or order?

A pediatric otolaryngologist can order or perform a wide variety of diagnostic and screening tests, including:

  • Biopsies including removal of tissue from the thyroid or other areas of the head and neck

  • General health tests including physical exam of the ears, nose, throat, head and neck; blood tests; bacteria cultures including group A Streptococcus; and allergy patch skin tests

  • GERD tests including pH probe, barium swallow or upper GI series, technetium gastric emptying study, and endoscopy with biopsy

  • Hearing and speech evaluations including otoscopy, tympanography and audiography

  • Imaging tests including X-rays and computed tomography(CT) scans

  • Scope tests including endoscopy (of the esophagus), otoscopy (of the ear), bronchoscopy (of the airways and lungs), and laryngoscopy (of the back of the throat and voice box)

  • Sleep studies including polysomnogram (PSG)

What procedures and treatments does a pediatric otolaryngologist perform or order?

Pediatric otolaryngologists are trained in both medical and surgical treatments. Common procedures and treatments include: 

  • Airway procedures including bronchoscopy and tracheotomy

  • Allergy treatments including medication and immunotherapy (allergy shots)

  • Cancer treatments including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery

  • Cosmetic and reconstructive surgery including rhinoplasty (“nose job”), otoplasty (pinning the ears back), and repair of cleft lip and cleft palate (palatoplasty)

  • Ear surgery including cochlear implants, myringotomy (tiny incisions in the eardrum to relieve pressure), and tympanoplasty (reconstruction of the eardrum and middle ear)

  • Endocrine surgery including surgery of the thyroid gland and parathyroid glands

  • GERD treatments including medication, lifestyle changes, and surgery

  • Larynx (voice box) procedures including voice therapy, phonosurgery (surgery to correct voice or sound production), and laryngectomy (removal of the larynx)

  • Nasal treatments including medication, balloon sinuplasty, and septoplasty (straightening of the nasal septum)

  • Tongue and throat treatments including medication, tonsillectomy, adenoidectomy, and surgery to correct sleep apnea and snoring

Pediatric otolaryngologist training and certification

A doctor may practice pediatric otolaryngology without becoming board certified in the specialty. However, education, training, experience and certification are key elements in establishing a doctor’s level of competence. Board certification in otolaryngology verifies that a doctor has completed training in the specialty and has passed a competency examination.

A board-certified pediatric otolaryngologist has earned certification as an otolaryngologist by the American Board of Otolaryngology. A board-certified pediatric otolaryngologist has:

  • Graduated from medical school or a college of osteopathic medicine, earning an MD or DO degree

  • Completed five years of specialized residency training in diagnosing, treating and managing problems affecting the ears, nose, throat, upper respiratory and upper alimentary systems, and associated structures of the head and neck

  • Passed a certification exam that validates the doctor's specialized knowledge and skills in otolaryngology

  • Completed one year of specialized fellowship training in pediatric otolaryngology and successfully pass the subspecialty certification exam

To maintain board certification in otolaryngology, a doctor must participate in the American Board of Otolaryngology Maintenance of Certification program

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2017 Nov 10
  1. Otolaryngology. American Board of Medical Specialists.  
  2. Position Statement: Pediatric Otolaryngology. American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.  
  3. Primary Certification. American Board of Otolaryngology.  

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