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What Is a Laryngologist?

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  • Written By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 14 November 2016
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A laryngologist is a surgeon who specializes in curing or improving voice and swallowing problems. Laryngology is a particularly nuanced branch of medicine, and doctors practicing it are experts on the workings of the inner throat, particularly the larynx and pharynx. As far as specialties go, laryngology is relatively rare, with entire hospitals or communities often having but one laryngologist. Most of the time, a laryngologist works on a referral basis only.

Laryngology is a branch of otolaryngology, a larger medical specialty that focuses on the ears, nose, and throat. In order to become a laryngologist, one must usually first secure a residency in otolaryngology, then take on additional work to sub-specialize in only the throat. The training required, then, is usually immense.

Different jurisdictions have different educational requirements for medical professionals, but any work as specialized as throat surgery usually takes significant coursework and training. A laryngologist must first attend medical school, which is commonly a four-year program. He or she must then secure an otolaryngology residency program, which is often an additional five years. A yearlong laryngology fellowship tops things off, which makes for at least ten years of graduate-level training in most places.

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Larynx experts use their knowledge of how the ear, nose, and throat are connected to aid in their diagnosis and treatment plans, but they only handle patients with a specific range of throat problems. This enables them to become true experts on certain throat conditions. These doctors work to diagnose, treat, and correct problems that patients have with their voices, particularly throat-related speech impediments. Swallowing issues and defective or impaired esophageal movements also come within a laryngologist's expertise.

In any given population, these conditions are relatively rare. For this reason, laryngology is a particularly small specialty. Fellowship programs typically accept no more than one or two doctors every year.

Surgical qualifications are almost always required for laryngologists. Their job involves diagnosing as well as treating. Surgery on the inner throat is a complex endeavor, and fixing voice box and swallowing problems requires not only precise knowledge but also a highly refined technique. The advanced training that laryngologists receive is one of the main things that distinguishes them from otolaryngologists more generally.

Before laryngology developed as a distinct sub-specialty, the work these doctors perform was taken on by general ear, nose, and throat surgeons. In some countries — particularly those with still-developing medical communities — this is still the case. The sub-specialty developed in large part to pay special attention to problems of the throat and to devote highly specialized medical skill to treating this kind of ailment.

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