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Neurotology is a type of specialized medicine that studies and treats neurological disorders that affect the ears and other structures of the head. Neurotologists are otolaryngologists, commonly referred to as “ear, nose and throat doctors,” that specialize in the effects of the brain and nervous system on the ears, face, and throat. Conditions treated by the specialty include hearing loss, balance issues, and facial paralysis.
Those who want to specialize in neurotology usually attend a premedical program or pursue an undergraduate degree in biology and then go on to medical school to become an otolaryngologist. Once they complete their medical training, they spend an additional two to three years studying neurology. In many cases, they are required to write an extensive research paper in their field before they become certified. Completing all the requirements to become a neurotologists can take up to 15 years.
While hearing loss can have many external causes, including excessive exposure to very loud noises and physical damage to the structure of the ears, it can also be caused by conditions of the brain or nervous system. For example, damage to the temporal lobe of the brain or the nerves that carry sound signals can have a significant impact on hearing. The damage can also work in reverse, with even mild hearing loss at an early age adversely affecting the development of the parts of the brain responsible for auditory processes. Neurotology specialists are trained to recognize brain and nervous system disorders that can result in hearing loss.
Vertigo, or dizziness often accompanied by a feeling of being off balance, is usually caused by an inner ear disorder. Vertigo can have many potential causes, from a bacterial infection to a head injury. In some cases, the symptom is caused by inflammation of the vestibular nerve or a tumor pressing against the nerve responsible for transmitting acoustics. A doctor specializing in neurotology can diagnose these causes and decide on the best treatment options for patients.
In addition to treating neurological disorders of the ears, neurotology specialists also treat conditions caused by damage to nerves in the face. Such damage can result in numerous different disorders, from temporary partial paralysis to permanent full facial paralysis. One of the most common conditions is Bell’s palsy, a temporary disorder that results from swelling or damage to the facial nerve responsible for relaying the signals that allow movement in the muscles of the face.
Neurotology specialists can also treat damage to the base of the skull caused by tumors or nerve damage. Since many neurotologists are trained in surgical procedures related to their specialty, in many cases a patient can see the same doctor from the diagnostic stage all the way through to any surgical procedures that may need to be performed. In addition, because neurotologists begin their careers by becoming trained ear, nose and throat doctors, patients can also use their services for conditions that are not related to neurological disorders.