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Q&A with Dr. Sterrett, Otolaryngologist

Otolaryngology…it’s a complicated word, right?! Thankfully, it’s much easier to understand than it is to say. We sat down with Dr. Sterrett for a little Q&A session on what this specialty (otherwise known as ENT) is all about, how they collaborate with other physicians, and how technological advancements can help those with sinusitis breathe a sigh of relief.

Q: What is an otolaryngologist?

A: Otolaryngologists, otherwise called ENTs, deal with conditions of the ear, nose and throat, as well as related structures of the head and neck.

Q: What are some of the common conditions that you treat?

A: We deal with a lot of different conditions, but some of the most common include:

  • Ear infections
  • Dizziness
  • Imbalance
  • Sinusitis
  • Allergic rhinitis
  • Tonsillitis
  • Snoring
  • Sleep apnea
  • Difficulty swallowing

Q: How does somebody know when they should see an ENT?

A: The simple answer is that you should visit an ENT when you have maxed out the medical management by the primary care physician. Often times our patients are referred to us by their primary care physician. They’ve treated them medically as far as they can go and either want an opinion on additional options or realize that surgical intervention is necessary. 

Most of the doctors in the area know me and they know what I want them to do before they send their patients to me. They will treat them with the antibiotics, antihistamines, decongestants, nasal steroids and all of those things before they get here. Sometimes the patient hasn’t gone through their primary care physician, which in that case I would handle exploring treatment options before we discuss surgery. 

Q: It seems like there’s some overlap between ENTs and other specialties. For example, ENTs and audiologists both deal with conditions of the ear. ENTs and allergists both deal with sinus conditions. So how do I know who I should see?

A: Yes, it’s true that there is some overlap. You should always go to an ENT first before you go to an audiologist. The reason for this is because it’s a waste of time to have an audiogram if your ears are full of wax, if you have a hole in your eardrum, or if you have some diseased state in your ear that can be treated and resolved. If you can treat a perforation in your ear or remove the wax first, then your audiogram is going to be a lot more accurate.

In terms of the overlap between ENTs and allergists, we often refer back and forth. I refer patients to Dr. Swender frequently and he refers to me. It’s kind of the primary care physician’s choice as to how they want to approach that. If you have something like a structural deformity, deviated nasal septum, or polyps in your nose then you will want to come to us first. Once we’ve removed the structural deformity, such as straightening the deviated septum or removing the polyps, we might then uncover that the actual cause is allergies. At this point we would refer you to Dr. Swender for treatment.

Q: As far as technology, is there anything particularly impressive that’s worth mentioning?

A: There’s a lot of cutting edge equipment that’s out there now. What I use particularly for sinus infections is called balloon sinuplasty. It’s done under local anesthesia in the office, as well as under general anesthesia in the operating room. This is a less invasive technique for opening up the sinuses. Prior to the advent of the balloon, which is an instrument that’s used to enlarge the opening of the sinuses, we actually had to go in and remove tissue. The balloon technology allows us to do micro-fracturing of the opening with minimal pain. Some of the new data that’s coming out is suggesting that you intervene with a balloon sooner than later, so that’s becoming part of our treatment regimen.

Along with this procedure we have a sinus imaging guided system where we can detect our instruments to within 1mm by a three-dimensional scope that we’re watching. So if we’re operating in the nose, we don’t actually look at the patient’s nose, we look at the screen. That image guided system allows us to not only be more complete, but safer.         

Q: Why is this a fulfilling specialty to work in?

A: I was an engineer before I went to medical school. In my engineering world, you were basically in a lab with a module on a countertop and that was about as close as you got to a person. To be able to see the smile on my patients’ faces when I’ve solved the problem that they’ve come in here for, to alleviate pain and discomfort, and to diagnose something and fix it is extremely fulfilling.

Q: What is your ultimate goal when a patient comes to see you?

A: My ultimate goal is to improve their quality of life. There are a lot of patients that feel that they have sinusitis and they can’t do anything about it. They think they just have to live with it. So with proper education, they realize that there are some things that can improve their quality of life…sometimes permanently.