Ophthalmology is the branch of medicine concerned with diagnosis and treatment of eye disorders. The medical specialist in ophthalmology is called an ophthalmologist. Although ophthalmologists specialize in the treatment of the eyes only, it is important for them to be cognizant of other abnormalities that may be revealed during an eye examination.
The importance of an eye examination cannot be underestimated because it commonly reveals the first signs of systemic illnesses (such as diabetes) that may be taking place in other parts of the body.
The medical practice of ophthalmology includes prescribing corrective lenses and performing various types of corrective eye surgeries. Specialized surgeries involve techniques that are as delicate and precise as that of neurosurgery and are commonly performed using magnifying glasses and utilizing laser beams.
Corrective eye surgeries include cornea transplantation, cataract removal, repair of ocular muscle dysfunction, glaucoma treatment, lens removal, and radial keratotomy.
Two other health care practitioners, the optometrist and optician, specialize in providing corrective lenses for the eyes. They are not medical doctors, but they are licensed to examine and test the eyes and treat visual defects by prescribing corrective lenses. The optician also specializes in filling prescriptions for corrective lenses.
Otolaryngology is the oldest medical specialty in the United States. Fifty years ago, otolaryngology was practiced along with ophthalmology. During that time, the medical practice consisted mainly of removing tonsils and adenoids and irrigating (cleansing a canal by flushing it with water or other fluids) the sinuses and ear canals.
Today, otolaryngology is greatly expanded to include medical and surgical management of patients with disorders of the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) and related structures of the head and neck. Otolaryngologists, also known as ENT physicians, commonly treat disorders related to the sinuses, including allergies and disorders of the sense of smell.
Their diagnostic techniques are used to detect the causes of such symptoms as hoarseness, hearing and breathing difficulty, and swelling around the head or neck.
Another important part of the ENT physician’s practice is treatment of sleep disorders, most commonly sleep apnea. Various types of procedures, including but not limited to surgery, may be performed to treat sleep apnea or snoring disorders.
ENT physicians are also involved in introducing rehabilitative programs for children and adults who have suffered hearing loss. Such programs commonly include collaborations with community agencies to identify hearing-impaired individuals (through public screenings) and provide them with needed medical treatment. Another health care practitioner, the audiologist (not an MD), detects, evaluates, and treats hearing loss.
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