The ABCs of ENT – A Beginner’s Guide to Common Ear, Nose and Throat Conditions

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The ABCs of ENT – A Beginner’s Guide to Common Ear, Nose and Throat Conditions

Ear, nose and throat (ENT) conditions are very common, especially in children. As an adult, you may think ENT issues are only relevant to kids getting ear infections, but there are many ENT problems that can impact people of any age.

Understanding the basics of some common ENT conditions can help you recognize if you or a loved one needs to see an ENT specialist. Here’s an overview of some of the most frequent issues dealt with by ear, nose and throat doctors:

Ear Conditions

Ear Infections

Ear infections, known medically as otitis media, occur when fluid builds up in the middle ear behind the eardrum. This can lead to pain, fever and trouble hearing. Ear infections are most common in children but can occasionally affect adults too. Treatment involves antibiotics and relieving pain and fever with over-the-counter medications.

Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an infection of the outer ear canal, often caused by water that remains in the ear after swimming or bathing. It causes intense ear pain and discomfort. Swimmer’s ear is treated with prescription ear drops to fight the infection. Keeping ears dry and using earplugs when swimming can help prevent it.

Tinnitus

Tinnitus refers to ringing or other noises heard in one or both ears. It can be constant or come and go. Exposure to loud noises is a common cause, but tinnitus can also result from medications, earwax buildup, ear bone changes or health conditions like high blood pressure. Treatments include sound therapy to help tune out the noises and counseling if needed to cope with resulting sleep or concentration problems.

Nose Conditions

Sinus Infections

Sinusitis is swelling and infection of the sinuses, usually due to a virus, bacteria or fungal infection. It leads to congestion, facial pain and pressure, headache and fevers. Antibiotics are sometimes needed for bacterial sinusitis. Nasal steroids, decongestants and nasal irrigation can help relieve symptoms.

Nasal Polyps

Nasal polyps are noncancerous growths that develop on the lining of the sinuses or nasal passageways. They can cause congestion, runny nose, loss of smell and more. Small polyps may not need treatment but larger ones can be removed via surgery. Nasal steroid sprays may help shrink polyps.

Nosebleeds

Nosebleeds happen when a blood vessel inside the nose breaks, often just from the nasal membranes drying out. Pinching the nose, tilting the head forward and applying ice can help stop bleeding. Prevent nosebleeds by using a humidifier and nasal saline spray. Frequent nosebleeds may require cauterization by an ENT to seal the vessel.

Throat Conditions

Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis refers to inflammation and infection of the tonsils, often caused by viruses or bacteria like strep. It leads to sore throat, trouble swallowing, fever and more. Viral tonsillitis resolves on its own while strep requires antibiotics. Severe, chronic tonsillitis may require surgically removing the tonsils (tonsillectomy).

Laryngitis

Laryngitis is inflammation of the voice box (larynx), usually due to a viral infection. It causes hoarseness or complete loss of voice. Laryngitis runs its course over a week or two. Temporary voice rest, hydration and inhaled steam can help symptoms. Chronic laryngitis may need further evaluation to rule out underlying disease.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

GERD occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus and throat, causing irritation. Symptoms include hoarseness, throat pain and a bitter taste in the mouth. Lifestyle changes and medications that reduce stomach acid often treat GERD successfully. More severe cases require surgery to tighten the lower esophageal sphincter muscle to prevent reflux.

As you can see, ENT issues range from temporary to chronic, but an ENT specialist can provide effective diagnosis and treatments. Pay attention to ear, nose and throat symptoms you or your child experience and see an ENT if they persist or interfere with daily life. Proper management of ENT conditions can restore your quality of life.

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