Angie's LIST Guide to
Pediatric ear, nose and throat care

Children with ear, nose and throat issues such as hearing loss, chronic ear infections, tonsillitis, sinus or breathing problems may need to see a pediatric otolaryngologist. Here's what you need to know before making an appointment with a pediatric ENT specialist.
 

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pediatric otolaryngologist checks out a kid's throat
Kids commonly see a pediatric ENT specialist for chronic strep throat infections, sinusitis, nose bleeds, and hearing loss. (Photo by Jeremy Deal)
 
 

What pediatric ENT doctors treat

Your family pediatrician can diagnosis and treat minor problems in your child's ear, nose or throat, such as common earaches and sore throats, but a pediatric otolaryngologist is specially trained to offer more extensive medical and surgical treatments for children with complex medical problems related to their head or neck.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many general otolaryngologists provide surgical care for children; however, in many areas of the country, more specialized pediatric ENT care is available for kids.

pediatrician examines a child's ear
Hearing loss is one of the most common medical issues a pediatric otolaryngologist treats. (Photo by Jeremy Deal)

Pediatric ear, nose and throat specialists offer comprehensive care for an array of conditions, the most common of which include hearing loss, recurrent ear infections, allergies, sinusitis, adenoiditis, tonsillitis, recurrent strep throat, snoring, nose bleeds, lumps in the neck, speech and language issues, and sleep disorders. 

Pediatric otolaryngologists also treat patients with birth defects of the head or neck, related developmental delays and Down's syndrome. They typically see patients from the newborn stage through the teenage years. 

Some of the surgeries ear, nose and throat doctors perform on a regular basis including tonsil removal, placing ear tubes, and sinus, thyroid, and reconstruction operation.

Understanding hearing loss

ENT doctors most commonly treat both temporary and permanent hearing loss in children. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, congenital hearing loss affects up to three out of every 1,000 babies born. About 60 percent of incidents of deafness in infants are due to congenital hearing loss.

Temporary hearing loss can occur for a variety of reasons, such as compressed earwax (cerumen impaction), swimmer's ear (otitis external), trauma from injury to the head or ear, and inflammation in the middle ear (otitis media). 

You may notice signs that your child is experiencing hearing loss. He or she may not be able to understand certain words or may speak louder than normal. If a child is experiencing hearing loss, some of his symptoms may include difficulties understanding speech, muffled sounds or pitched ringing in his or her ears. 

ear tube installation surgery
Ear tubes help relieve chronic ear infections in children. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

Otitis media is the most common reason for earache, swelling and temporary loss of hearing in children, and it comes in two primary forms: acute otitis media and otitis media with effusion. Acute otitis media typically occurs when a child has a cold, upper respiratory infection, allergies or a buildup of mucus and pus behind the eardrum due to bacteria or a virus.

Otitis media with effusion typically occurs at the start of an ear infection or when an ear infection is recovering. Either before or after an ear infection, fluid will accumulate in the ear, resulting in otitis media with effusion. If the fluid does not drain, the ear infection is not treated, or the child has chronic ear infections, permanent hearing loss may result.

Ear tubes are one of the main reasons parents seek out a pediatric ENT specialist. Though the procedure peaked during the 1970s, ear tubes are still a popular treatment for relieving chronic ear infections. The tubes allow air to get into the middle ear, release the fluid from the middle ear, prevent the future buildup of fluid and help decrease the feeling of pressure, which reduces pain.

RELATED: Doctors Urge Discretion when Placing Ear Tubes in Kids

Finding an ear, nose and throat specialist

If your child needs to see a pediatric ENT specialist, you'll need to visit your pediatrician for an exam and referral. The pediatrician will decide whether the problem your child is experiencing requires the advanced care of a pediatric otolaryngologist, which often uses equipment and facilities designed especially for children.

kid ENT specialist operates on child patient with ear tubes
Pediatric otolaryngologists can offer surgical treatments for children with complex medical problems related to their head or neck. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

Your pediatrician can refer you to local pediatric otolaryngologists, or you can find one at American Academy of Otolaryngology. Cross-reference your referrals and search the Ears, Nose & Throat - Pediatrics category on Angie's List, where you can also read member reviews and get more information on the doctor's qualifications, education, continued training, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals. 

Otolaryngologists must complete up to 15 years of college and post-graduate training, including a year of surgical internship and an often an additional year of residency training in general surgery. To qualify for board certification by the American Board of Otolaryngology, the doctor must obtain at least five years of speciality training beyond medical school and pass an exam. In addition, Pediatric ENT specialists pursue one- to two-year fellowships for more extensive training in the pediatric otolaryngology subspecialty at a large children's hospital or medical center.

Collect the names of a few different local pediatric otolaryngologists and call their offices to find out if they are accepting new patients. Ask about their office hours, availability, if they're currently accepting new patients, what hospital they're associated with and verify they accept your health insurance.

Make a list of what to look for during your child's appointment. Is the staff friendly toward children? Does the waiting room include children's activities? How long was the wait? Is the doctor courteous and respectful to you and your child? Pediatric otolaryngologists are trained to examine and treat children in a way that's kid-friendly and easy to understaned. If you or your child are uncomfortable or do not feel as though the doctor is a good fit, call the next otolaryngologist on your list until you find a doctor who makes both you and your child happy. 

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