What Is an Otologist?

A medical doctor who specializes in the treatment of ear and balance problems is known as an otologist. Doctors in this field are usually surgeons as well as specialists, which means they can diagnose and treat a wide range of issues. The practice of otology is always focused on specific ear problems, such as chronic ear diseases, physical abnormalities, and neurological disorders. Patients who require regular ear exams and hearing tests are usually referred to more generalized doctors.

Hearing loss is one of the most common ear problems, but it is far from the only, or even the most serious, ear problem. Inner ear problems can cause serious balance problems, and ear canal malformations can put undue pressure on the skull and brain. Neurological disorders have a distinct effect on the ear. The otologist’s job is to know everything there is to know about the anatomy of the ear, as well as how the ear’s passageways connect to those of the nose and throat.

An otologist must usually begin his or her career as an otolaryngologist. Otolaryngology is a medical specialty that focuses on the ears, nose, and throat. Practitioners typically treat all three areas equally. A doctor who is only interested in the ear usually needs to specialize.

Getting into otology usually takes a long time. Doctors must usually spend a year studying general surgery after medical school, followed three to four years of otolaryngology training. Only then can they continue their studies in otology or neuro-otology for an additional one to three years. An otologist who specializes in neurological disorders of the ear, particularly as they affect sensory perception and nerve transmission to the brain, is known as a neurotologist. Doctors who specialize in otology or neurotology typically graduate with the knowledge and skills to diagnose and treat even the most difficult ear problems, making the time investment worthwhile for many.

The majority of otologists work in private practice and are referred patients general practitioners or otolaryngologists. Patients usually go to their family doctor first when they have ear problems. General practitioners can often determine whether or not there is a problem, but they are not always as well equipped to diagnose ongoing issues as someone who has received more specialized ear training. The otologist is called in at this point.

As is often the case with surgical specialists, an otologist can work in a hospital. Hospital-based otologists see a steady stream of patients, often as a result of a critical referral. They do not have the same opportunities to develop patient relationships as a doctor in private practice, but their workload is usually much more consistent, and finding and keeping patients is rarely a problem.