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When Should You See an ENT for Your Child?

Parent checks child's temperature with ear thermometer

Three common reasons parents take their children to the doctor are: ear infections, recurring nosebleeds, and sore throats. They’re also some of the most common conditions for ear, nose, and throat doctors, or ENTs, to treat. Pediatricians are well-versed in handling a sore throat. But when these issues become recurring, it might be time to see an ENT (also known as a otolaryngologist).

As a parent, you’re probably used to calling your child’s pediatrician for sore throats and ear infections. Your pediatrician has enough training and experience to help with these. But there are also ear, nose, and throat doctors who treat kids. They have extra training to treat problems with these parts of the body. So how do you know when your kid should see their regular pediatrician or an ENT?

How Do You Know It’s Time to See an ENT?

If you just need a strep test or to stop a nosebleed, your pediatrician is probably your best bet.

But when your child keeps having the same issue over and over, it might be time to see an ENT. These doctors have extra tools in their treatment toolbox that your pediatrician doesn’t — like surgery.

Ear infections, like scraped knees and Cheerio breath, are part of the toddler experience. While we rarely get ear infections as adults, it’s completely normal for toddlers to get 2 or 3 every year.

How Do You Get In to See an ENT?

It depends on your insurance. You might need your child’s pediatrician to make a referral to an ENT. It also helps to get a referral because your pediatrician can share helpful information with the ENT before your appointment.

Does Your Child Have Frequent Ear Infections?

At UVA Children's, we have ENTs who can help find out why and offer treatments for faster recovery and less pain.

What Do ENTs Do for Ear Infections?

Toddlers get ear infections more often because of differences in their bones and muscles. As your toddler grows, the shape of their skull and muscles in their face will change. Because of these changes, kids usually stop getting so many ear infections after they turn 3. But in some kids, the infections don’t slow down until they’re 5. 

When Is It Time for Ear Tubes?

If fluid builds up in your child’s ears and doesn’t go away, they might get ear infections more often. Ear tubes can help. Doctors do surgery to put in ear tubes, so it’s important to weigh the benefits and risks. An ENT can help decide if ear tubes are right for your child.

How Can ENTs Help With Sore Throats?

Strep throat is a common bacterial infection. But that doesn’t make it easier to see your child go through it.

And some kids get it over and over. If that happens, surgery can help.

Your child’s tonsils might need to come out if they have:

At UVA Children’s, we offer less invasive surgeries to fix this problem in addition to regular surgery to remove the tonsils (tonsillectomy). That means your child will have less pain and recover faster. In one of the surgeries, doctors shave the tonsils instead of taking them out.

What If My Child Snores?

If your child keeps the whole house awake with their snoring, an ENT might be the answer. Everyone snores sometimes when they’re congested. But loud, constant snoring can keep your child and family from getting a good night’s sleep. One of the most common causes is obstructive sleep apnea.

In kids, obstructive sleep apnea usually happens because of enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Doctors commonly treat by doing surgery to remove them.

But, just like with recurring strep throat, we offer less invasive surgeries with less pain and faster recovery at UVA Children’s that you can’t find everywhere.

“These procedures can reduce the pain and bleeding that can cause such a long recovery. We are also using endoscopes (small, flexible tubes with a camera) to evaluate sleep at the time of surgery to see if we can do smaller procedures that are likely to get similar results,” says UVA Children’s ENT William Brand, MD.

How Do You Know When Nosebleeds are a Problem?

If your child has more than one nosebleed a week with heavy bleeding, then you may want to see an ENT to rule out serious issues. Sometimes all they need to do is apply heat to a problematic vein to prevent future bleeds. But sometimes frequent nosebleeds are caused by a deviated septum.

The septum is the thin wall that separates your left and right nostril. When it curves, it makes one nostril that’s narrower and one that’s wider. While this might sound minor, it can cause a lot of issues, like trouble sleeping and frequent nosebleeds.

Never Wrong to Get an Opinion

Ultimately, it makes sense to see an ENT when:

Fixing problems like frequent ear infections can help your child feel better sooner. If any of this sounds like your child, then it’s time to talk to a pediatric ENT. At UVA, our children’s ENTs are experts at finding underlying issues and offering treatments that improve recovery time.

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