Five things to know about a pediatric ENT doctor

Family Health
May 15, 2018

As a parent, when your child is sick you want to do anything you can to make him or her feel better. In addition to your pediatrician, there’s a team of specialized physicians that are trained specifically in pediatric care. Among those are pediatric ear, nose and throat doctors.

An ENT, or otolaryngologist, is someone that focuses in diseases and disorders of the ear, nose and throat or disease processes that involve the head and neck region. The most common conditions treated include hearing loss, ear infections, disease of the tonsils and adenoids, infections or enlargements that lead to sleep apnea, sinus and allergy symptoms and head and neck tumors.

Dr. Stephanie Ambrose

Children are just as easily susceptible to ear, nose and throat conditions as adults. Therefore, pediatric otolaryngologists have additional training and a core focus on treating pediatric ENT conditions.

“Pediatric otolaryngologists focus on examining and treating children in a way that makes them relaxed and cooperative,” says Dr. Stephanie Ambrose, pediatric otolaryngologist with St. Joseph's/Candler Physician Network - Pediatric ENT. “We talk to both the children and the parents about everything and make sure that everyone feels comfortable.”

Here are five things parents should know about a pediatric otolaryngologist:

1. What is a pediatric ENT?
A pediatric ENT, or otolaryngologist, treats diseases and disorders of the ear, nose and throat exclusively in children from the newborn period through the teenage years. Pediatric ENTs choose to make pediatric care the core of their medical practice, and the unique nature of medical and surgical care of children is learned from advanced training and experience in practice, Dr. Ambrose says.

2. How are pediatric ENTs trained?
A pediatric otolaryngologist has training in common ENT problems and additional training or experience in complex otolaryngologic diseases in children or problems in children with complicated medical histories, such as multiple surgeries. A pediatric otolaryngologist has:

  • At least four years of medical school
  • Five years of residency training, including general surgery and otolaryngology and head and neck surgery
  • Pediatric otolaryngologists often complete an additional one to two years of training in fellowship programs at a large children’s medical center or have greater than 80 percent of their practice dedicated to treatment of pediatric patients.

3. What are some differences between a general ENT and a pediatric ENT?
Besides the additional training, there are several things offered by a pediatric ENT as opposed to a general ENT. For instance, during their additional training, pediatric otolaryngologists learn about conditions not common in the adult population, like airway reconstruction or congenital malformations, says Dr. Ambrose. Pediatric ENTs also collaborate often with multiple pediatric specialists such as pediatricians, pulmonologists, audiologists, anesthesiologists and gastroenterologists.

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Pediatric otolaryngologists focus on examining and treating children in a way that makes them comfortable, use special equipment designed for children and usually have an office environment designed to create a comfortable and kid-friendly space during exam.

“Children are not just small adults. They cannot always say what is bothering them and are not always able to answer medical questions,” Dr. Ambrose says. “Ear, nose and throat diseases can present and progress very differently in children than in adults, needing different diagnostic and treatment strategies.”

4. When should my child see a pediatric ENT?
Every child is appropriate for a pediatric otolaryngologist if they have an ENT problem. The majority of patients are referred to an ENT from the pediatrician or family physician. Most children who have an issue with the ear, nose or throat can be or are managed initially through their pediatrician. The pediatrician can see if there’s a first line of defense, such as medications or additional testing, that can be done. If the child does not respond to standard medical management from the pediatrician, a pediatric ENT can help with more specialized medical management or surgical intervention. For example, typically a pediatrician treats common ear infections. However, if the child has three ear infections in six months or four in a year, you may be referred to a pediatric ENT to consider ear tubes.

“I think pediatricians do a good job of managing a lot of common ENT infections and diseases initially but once it becomes very frequent or complicated the child will start coming to us,” Dr. Ambrose says.

5. What should I expect when my child sees a pediatric ENT?
Just because your child visits with a pediatric ENT does not mean surgery is an automatic. Dr. Ambrose says otolaryngology is a good mix of medically managing problems and offering surgery when needed. Usually the first visit is the longest so the ENT can learn about the condition, what remedies have been tried and the child’s medical history. Dr. Ambrose says medical management, such as medications and additional testing, are often tried first before resorting to surgery. For example, if a child is complaining of nasal congestion, Dr. Ambrose will evaluate for conditions that can be managed medically, such as allergies, and may recommend a nasal steroid spray or oral antihistamines. When all other options are exhausted and the child is appropriate for surgery, an operation will be scheduled.

“Children are always going to look to their parents as their biggest source of comfort,” Dr. Ambrose says. “If a child is timid or cautious in the office, then we can help guide the parents with advice on how to make situations like applying ear drops or taking medicine at home easier, as the child will best respond in an environment that is comfortable for them. We also try to make sure the parents are comfortable with the whole process.”

To learn more about Georgia Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists or request an appointment, visit their website.

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