What is ENT?

ENT, or Otorhinolaryngology, is the speciality of Medicine dealing with disease of the ears, nose, oral cavity, throat, and head and neck. Excluded from this are the eyes, brain, and jaws, although there is significant overlap with these areas as well.

Otolaryngologists diagnose, treat, and manage specialty-specific disorders as well as many primary care problems in both children and adults.

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.

ENTs with an interest in otology are well equipped to deal with most diseases affecting the ear. The advent of cochlear implant surgery has revolutionised hearing restoration for children and adults who are born with, or develop, profound hearing loss. Most otolaryngologists will be involved in the management of the causes of hearing loss and speech and communicative disorders.

Modern endoscopic techniques have radically altered the management of diseases of the nose and paranasal 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 surgery is also employed to manage 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.

ENTs are intimately familiar with the anatomy and physiology of the head and neck, including the face. This places them in a unique position to deal with cosmetic problems of the head and neck, sometimes alone and other times in collaboration with a plastic surgeon.

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.

To gain this expertise, a typical ENT will study for at least 14 years. This includes six years undergraduate training, a year (now two years) of internship, a year of community service, and six years of speciality training. In order to qualify as an ENT, a doctor must successfully pass the exams of the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa. This exam is of an international standard, and the failure rate is high! The exam includes three written papers, and a clinical/oral exam. Some ENTs may then elect to do a fellowship in one of the subspecialities in ENT. In South Africa, unfortunately, no subspeciality training (except in Head & Neck Surgery) is available, and so one has to go overseas.

It is important for any doctor to stay current with developments in medicine. An interest in academics is therefore of utmost importance, and can only help one serve his/her patients better.