What is otolaryngology? (Definition and salary information)

Updated 24 January 2023

Otolaryngology is a medical specialty that concentrates on the study of diseases affecting the ears, nose and throat and can include head and neck surgeries. Highly skilled medical doctors and surgeons in this field help people in various ways, such as by diagnosing and treating ailments that affect eating, breathing, speaking, swallowing and hearing. Understanding what the role entails can help you decide whether you want to pursue this area of medicine. In this article, we answer the question 'What is otolaryngology?', outline what these professionals do, look at the qualifications they require, explore skills and offer salary information.

What is otolaryngology?

Learning the answer to 'What is otolaryngology?' can help you decide whether to work in this field. Otolaryngology is the study of diseases that affect the head and neck—mainly the ears, throat and nose. Medical professionals in this field diagnose, treat and operate on illnesses relating to these delicate areas. It's a surgical subspecialty that covers the management of illnesses, such as cancers, besides reconstructive and plastic operations. Names for specialists working in the field include head and neck surgeons, ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeons, otorhinolaryngologists and otolaryngologists.

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What do otolaryngologists do?

These professionals diagnose and treat a range of diseases affecting the head and neck area, except for those involving the eyes and brain, which have their own medical subspecialties dedicated to them. They often help people with damaged senses that have resulted from a disease affecting their head and neck area. Here's a closer look at the various sensitive areas of the body that they specialise in and the ailments associated with each:


Otolaryngologists diagnose and treat a range of ear conditions. Some of these ailments may require surgery to rectify, which an otolaryngologist also performs. These illnesses can impair hearing and cause patients to lose their balance, which doctors aim to restore through surgery and other treatments. These ailments can include:

  • ear pain

  • serious ear infections

  • tinnitus

  • otosclerosis

  • Meniere's disease

  • earwax blockage

  • vertigo

  • eustachian tube problems

  • damaged eardrum

  • hearing loss

  • ear tumours

  • acoustic neuroma

  • Cogan syndrome

  • otitis media

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These professionals help to treat and cure various throat illnesses too. Some of these conditions can threaten a patient's ability to breathe, swallow and speak. This makes them very serious in some cases. The effects can include:

  • severe sore throat

  • swallowing issues

  • vocal cord problems

  • severe snoring

  • subglottic stenosis

  • laryngitis

  • throat and mouth tumours

  • hoarseness

  • sleep apnoea

  • tonsillitis

  • croup

  • strep throat

  • gastroesophageal reflux disease

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Otolaryngologists treat a variety of nasal conditions. These diseases can present serious problems for patients, as nasal conditions not only affect scent but also the ability to breathe. These professionals use their training and expertise to diagnose and manage these ailments, which can include:

  • sinusitis

  • rhinitis

  • nasal allergies

  • nasal tumours

  • excessive nosebleeds

  • postnasal drip

  • nasal polyps

  • obstructed breathing

  • cerebral spinal fluid leaks

  • deviated septum

  • nasal injuries

Head and neck

Physicians in this field often deal with head and neck ailments. These conditions may occur because of injury, infection, hereditary issues or deficiencies. These professionals carry out a range of reparative measures to address them, including prescribing medications and performing surgery. Here are some conditions that can affect these areas, which otolaryngologists diagnose and treat:

  • thyroid problems

  • reconstructive surgery

  • plastic surgery

  • head or neck infections

  • head or neck tumours

  • facial trauma

  • deformities

  • Grave's disease

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What are otolaryngologist qualifications?

These medical specialists require significant training to perform their jobs effectively, which they gain through several years of classroom-based studying and practical learning. Otolaryngologists first require excellent GCSE and A-level results. Some universities require you to have A-levels in chemistry, biology, maths and physics, so discover what your desired establishment requires before attending college or sixth form. Once you have a medical degree, you can complete your paid two-year foundation programme, which includes six placements in various clinical settings. The next step is to complete paid surgery training, which lasts seven years.

These physicians also typically hold various memberships with professional bodies, research societies and institutes, such as ENT UK, the Royal College of Surgeons of England and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, which may also contribute to your knowledge and training through events and seminars.

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Audiologist vs otolaryngologist

Because audiologists also work with ears, many confuse them with otolaryngologists, but the two specialties are distinct in several important ways. Audiologists typically have doctorate degrees in audiology and carry out activities including the following:

  • helping people prevent hearing loss

  • fitting hearing aids

  • diagnosing audio conditions, such as tinnitus and vertigo

  • screening for hearing problems

What are otolaryngology specialties?

There are various subspecialties within this medical field, including:


Professionals in this field specialise in diagnosing and treating complex ear problems, including infections, to restore hearing and balance in patients. They study the normal and pathological anatomy and physiology of ears to diagnose and treat diseases. They also perform surgeries, such as inserting cochlear implants.

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These experts diagnose and treat nasal and sinus problems, including those involving allergies, infections, tumours and inflammatory conditions. Their advanced diagnostics and surgical training allow them to diagnose and treat issues of the nose and sinuses. Their extensive training also allows them to perform complex surgeries, such as endoscopic skull base surgery. These professionals may also help people who experience severe or recurring nose bleeds.

Facial plastics

Otolaryngologists specialising in facial plastics carry out such procedures as pinnaplasties and rhinoplasties, which are aesthetic procedures that correct the shape of ears and noses. They may also perform surgeries to correct facial defects, which may have resulted from deformities. These physicians may work at clinics that specialise in plastic or reconstructive surgery.

What are an otolaryngologist's skills?

Here are some abilities that otolaryngologists rely on to do their jobs effectively, which you can develop if you want to pursue a career in the field:

  • Extensive medical knowledge: This is an essential hard skill, as it enables these professionals to carry out examinations, diagnose problems and prescribe solutions.

  • Integrity: All medical professionals and people in positions of authority require integrity, as they often deal with highly sensitive and often confidential information and manage this data wisely.

  • Excellent manual dexterity: To perform surgeries in delicate areas of the human body, otolaryngologists require highly developed manual dexterity to carry out procedures without issue.

  • Excellent hand-eye coordination: Performing delicate procedures requires this ability, as it improves accuracy and reduces risks, such as shaky hands.

  • Attention to detail: This skill helps otolaryngologists diagnose illnesses and perform surgeries, as it helps them focus on the smallest elements and take them into account.

  • Communication: Medical professionals relay complex information to their patients and also write clear reports, which requires them to have strong written and verbal communication skills.

  • The ability to work in multidisciplinary teams: Diverse groups underpin healthcare, so this skill is necessary for organising and coordinating different care and treatment.

  • Emotional resilience: Working as a doctor and surgeon can impact your emotional well-being, as you may face challenging situations, so emotional resilience can help you manage your feelings successfully.

  • Visuospatial awareness: This proficiency helps surgeons move their hands and perceive depth, distance and space, enabling them to perform surgery effectively.

  • Analytical: All doctors rely on analytical skills to assess and evaluate evidence and data to form sensible conclusions.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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