Common Questions

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Common Questions

What is an Otolaryngologist/head and neck surgeon and when should I see one?

An Otolaryngologist/Head and Neck surgeon is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of disorders in the head and neck region. Often called an "Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Doctor," they provide both medical and surgical treatment. Otolaryngologists completed 5-6 years of specialized surgical training beyond medical school. They treat children and adults with a wide range of disorders including ear disease, hearing loss, nasal and sinus problems, throat problems and tumors in the head and neck.


If you have large tonsils, should you have surgery to remove them?

Large tonsils with no other symptoms do not necessarily require removal. However, large tonsils with other symptoms such as snoring, mouth breathing or sleep disturbance may require removal. If your child has these symptoms or frequent sore throats, an otolaryngologist (ENT physician) can determine if removal is needed.


I am having trouble hearing and am interested in buying a hearing aid. What is the next step?

Some causes of hearing loss can be corrected through medications or surgery. It is important to see an otolaryngologist for hearing loss especially if other symptoms are present such as ear pain, ear drainage, hearing loss in only one ear, sudden or rapidly progressive hearing loss or dizziness. In addition to a medical assessment by the otolaryngologist, a hearing assessment by our specialized Doctors of Audiology will determine your type of hearing loss. Through this team approach, recommendations can be made for medical or surgical treatment or appropriateness for a hearing aid. There are many types of hearing aids available and determining the best fit is an important role of our Doctors of Audiology in providing excellent function and satisfaction.


Is there something that can be done for chronic sinus infections? 

Sinus infections can occur for a variety of reasons. If your sinus infections are prolonged or frequent, treatment may include antibiotics, mucous thinning agents, decongestants and nasal steroid sprays. In some cases, there is blockage of the sinuses requiring surgical drainage. An otolaryngologist can help determine your best treatment in chronic sinusitis.  Our clinic offers both non-surgical and surgical treatments for chronic sinus infections.


My child gets ear infections all the time, should she have ear tubes?

Ear infections commonly occur in children and often occur with colds. In some cases antibiotics are used to clear the infection. If you child has frequent infections or fluid that remains behind the eardrum after the infection has resolved, they may require ear tubes. Even fluid behind the eardrum without infections can cause hearing loss and may require treatment with ear tubes. Ear tubes, when indicated, play an important part in the treatment of ear infections. An otolaryngologist can determine if ear tubes are appropriate in your child's treatment.


I am a smoker and my throat has been hoarse for a while, should I see a doctor?

There are many causes of hoarseness. Fortunately, most are not serious and tend to go away in a short period of time. Since smoking is the major cause of throat cancer a smoker who is hoarse should see an otolaryngologist. Smoking can damage the throat and vocal cords. Most of the time the vocal cords have become swollen from the continual smoke exposure and be treated, other times malignant lesions can develop. Some symptoms are:  hoarseness lasting longer than two weeks especially if you smoke, pain not from a cold or flu, coughing up blood, difficulty swallowing, lump in the neck, loss or severe change in voice lasting longer than a few days.


I get sinus infections a lot. Antibiotics don’t always work. What should I do?

While an antibiotic may get rid of bacteria causing the infection, there may still be inflammation or blockage left in the sinuses.  It is important to determine if underlying problems like allergies or sensitivity to irritants like smoke, perfumes or weather changes may be setting the stage for infection.  Mechanical blockage of the sinuses may also be a problem.  If your infections keep recurring, you should see an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor).  They can determine if other treatment is needed beyond antibiotics.


I have trouble breathing through my nose and was told that I have a deviated septum. What can be done?

Chronic nasal obstruction may be due to deviation of the nasal septum (the dividing wall in the center of the nose).  Sometimes this occurs from trauma, but often it has just developed that way. As people get older, it often becomes more bothersome.  An otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) can determine if a septal deviation is the cause of your breathing problem and whether surgery can help you.


What is “swimmers ear” and can I prevent it? 

Swimmer's ear is an infection of the skin in the ear canal.  It can be due to either bacteria or yeast/fungus, but typically occurs because the ear canal remains wet after water exposure.  Keeping water out of the ear by using ear plugs for swimming may help.  If an infection occurs it may require ear cleaning by a doctor and prescription ear drops.


What is tinnitus and should I have it checked?

Tinnitus is the term for ringing or buzzing in the ears.  Most people will have it occasionally or intermittently.  It is often noted after exposure to loud or prolonged noise.  Consuming caffeine, salt, chocolate and alcohol can make it worse.  If it is constant, occurring in only one ear, associated with hearing loss, associated with dizziness or just very bothersome, it should be checked by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose & throat doctor), as it may indicate a more serious problem. 


What are nasal polyps and what can I do about them?

Nasal polyps occur in some people and can cause a variety of symptoms including nasal obstruction, recurrent sinus infections and loss of sense of smell.  Nasal polyps are very swollen, inflamed tissue arising from the lining of the sinuses and nasal cavity.  They can be set off by many things including colds and allergies.  They should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) who can recommend medical treatment and explain possible surgical treatment.


I always feel like there is phlegm in my throat. My doctor said it is caused by reflux, but I don’t have heartburn.

Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) occurs when the acid from the stomach refluxes up into the throat. It often does not cause heartburn. Instead it causes the feeling that there is phlegm or a lump in the throat. Frequent throat clearing or coughing in attempt to clear the phlegm only makes the symptoms worse. Your doctor can recommend some simple lifestyle changes that may help. They may also wish for you to see an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) for an exam of the throat.


I am a smoker and have had hoarseness. Should I be concerned? Who should I see?

Smoking does increase your risk of certain cancers in the head and neck area.  Hoarseness may be a sign of voice box cancer. This type of cancer is very treatable if caught early. There are many other causes of hoarseness, too. If your hoarseness lasts more than 2 - 3 weeks you should see a doctor. An otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) can examine the voice box and lower throat to determine the cause of your hoarseness.


Can acid reflux disease cause hoarseness?

Yes.  Acid reflux disease is when the acid from the stomach refluxes out of the stomach and into the esophagus and throat.  This acid can sometimes irritate the vocal cords resulting in hoarseness or a change in the voice.


I fractured my nose. When is the best time to have this fixed?

Not all nasal fractures require repair.  Fractures that do require repair are usually repaired 5 to 10 days after injury.


Is snoring dangerous to my health?

Snoring can be a symptom of obstructive sleep apnea.  Individuals with untreated obstructive sleep apnea have an increased risk of high blood pressure, heart failure, stroke, and motor vehicle accidents.  Individuals with snoring should be evaluated to see if they have obstructive sleep apnea.


Why do people have their tonsils and adenoids removed?

Tonsils and adenoids are usually removed because of chronic infections or if they are large and causing obstructive symptoms of snoring, mouth breathing, and poor sleep quality.  Occasionally, the surgery is performed if there is concern of tonsil cancer.


What are sinuses?

Sinuses are air-filled spaces in the skull.  They are connected to the nasal cavities and are lined with the same lining as the inside of the nose.  It is not clear why we have sinuses but there are several theories:


   1. They help warm and humidify the air we breathe

   2. They affect the quality and tone of our voice

   3. They decrease the weight of our head


What causes fluid to build up in the ears? What can I do to prevent it?

In adults, painless fluid in the ears can occur with colds and allergies.  With a cold, the fluid will often go away as the cold resolves.  It is all right to gently "pop" the ears.  Decongestants and medicines that "break-up" mucous may also help.  If the fluid has occurred with onset of allergies, then treatment with antihistamines is indicated.  These medications are available over the counter.  If the fluid persists or is associated with pain, then evaluation by a doctor is recommended.


What is the parotid gland and should I be concerned with a lump in it?

The parotids are a pair of large saliva producing glands located just in front of and below the ear.  There is a duct that runs from the gland into the mouth to provide saliva.  The parotid gland can develop infections which generally cause painful swelling of the gland.  Stones can also occur in the gland and may be noted as either painful or painless lumps. The parotid glands can also develop tumors. If a lump is present, it should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist to determine the cause.


I get painful swelling under my jaw when I eat, but it goes away. What causes this?

Swelling in this area suggests a problem with the submandibular gland. Your submandibular glands are salivary glands located under the jaw and the saliva they produce drains into the mouth under the tongue. These glands can become infected or develop stones. If the swelling is mild, then gentle massage of the gland, good hydration and use of lemon drops may get it to resolve. If this does not work, then you should see a doctor.


My 3 year old always sounds like he has a cold. We are always getting him treated for a “sinus infection.” What more can we do?

Your son may have enlarged adenoids. The adenoids are made of the same type of tissue as the tonsils but are located in the back upper throat just behind the nasal cavity. If they are enlarged they cause blockage of the nose resulting in mouth breathing. When they become infected the patient may have fever, discolored nasal drainage and cough. Adenoid problems can also cause ear infections in some situations. An otolaryngologist can evaluate your child to see if the adenoids are causing his symptoms.


I have a lump on the side of my neck that is getting bigger. It doesn’t hurt. Should I be concerned?

Lumps can occur for many reasons. Painless lumps that are growing should be evaluated by your doctor or an otolaryngologist. If the lump involves a lymph node a thorough exam of the head and neck area by an otolaryngologist should be done first.  Further evaluation with x-rays and a biopsy or removal of the lump may then be recommended if cancer is suspected.


My ears hurt when I fly on airplanes. What can I do?

Some people have difficulty equalizing the pressure in their ears when flying.  The situation will be worse if you fly with a cold or allergies.  Take an oral decongestant before the flight and supplement it with a nasal decongestant spray prior to descent.  You should "pop" your ears repeatedly by plugging your nose and blowing out with your mouth closed.  This is especially important on descent.  Chewing gum and frequent swallowing is also helpful.   Ear plugs designed for flying are also available over the counter and can be very helpful.

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BayCare Clinic,, is the largest physician-owned specialty-care clinic in northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. BayCare Clinic offers expertise in more than 20 specialties, with more than 100 physicians serving in 16 area communities. BayCare Clinic is a joint partner in Aurora BayCare Medical Center, a 167-bed, full-service hospital. Follow BayCare Clinic on Facebook and Twitter.