Otolaryngology is the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the ears, nose, throat and related parts of the head and neck, including the sinuses, voice box and tonsils. At Seattle Children's, we specialize in caring for children with a broad range of conditions, from ear infections to problems with hearing and speaking.

The best treatment for ear, nose and throat disorders often involves specialists in many medical fields. Because our focus is on young patients, at Seattle Children's, we have the experts your child needs to get the best treatment.

Conditions We Treat

We care for children with a wide variety of problems affecting their ears, nose, throat and related parts of the head and neck, including:

  • Our team identifies and treats problems with the large tubes that carry air into and out of your child's lungs. (Our colleagues in Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine treat problems with small airways, such as asthma.) When your child's airway isn't formed right, it can affect breathing. For example, some children are born with floppy tissue above their voice box (larynx) that partly blocks the opening to the windpipe (trachea). This condition is called laryngomalacia. In other children, weak and floppy walls of the windpipe can block the airway (tracheomalacia).

  • When doctors refer to an ear infection, they are most likely talking about acute otitis media (AOM). AOM occurs when fluid and mucus clogs the tubes in your child's ears. This can cause pain, swelling and fever. Another type of ear infection is called otitis media with effusion (OME). In OME, fluid and mucus stay trapped in your child's ear after the infection goes away. Sometimes ear infections go away on their own. In other cases, your child may need to take antibiotic medicine. Read more.

  • The hearing system is fully developed when babies are born. Children with normal hearing begin to learn language as soon as they are born. Some children are born with deafness or hearing loss, though hearing loss can develop after birth, too. Children with hearing loss do better if the problem is identified and treatment begins early. Read more.

  • Many conditions can cause a lump in your child's neck. Usually, neck masses in children are not cancer. Instead, they may be due to thyroid disease, which sometimes causes the thyroid gland to become so large you can see it (goiter). Another cause of neck masses in children are lymphatic malformations, which can be present when a baby is born or develop soon after. These masses involve the body fluid system (lymph system).

  • Velopharyngeal insufficiency is a disorder involving the way the soft palate muscle in your child's mouth (velopharyngeal sphincter) moves during speech. The muscle does not close properly, allowing air to escape through your child's nose instead of mouth. If the velopharyngeal sphincter doesn't close off the nose, your child may have trouble saying the sounds for strong consonants, such as "p," "b," "g," "t" and "d." Your child may also have a nasal tone of voice and make snorting sounds as air escapes through the nose. Read more. (PDF)

  • Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when your child's airway closes partway or all the way during sleep, blocking air from getting in. The drop in oxygen signals the brain to wake your child up, stopping your child from getting needed sleep. In children without other medical conditions, enlarged tonsils or adenoids most often cause the blockage. The problem is most likely to happen during sleep when the throat muscles and tongue are most relaxed. Read more.

  • Sinuses are moist air spaces within the bones of the face around the nose. When sinuses swell or become irritated, the infection is called sinusitis. These infections usually follow colds or bouts with allergiesRead more. (PDF)

  • Tonsillitis is redness and swelling (inflammation) in the tonsils. Tonsils are the fleshy clusters of tissue on both sides of the back of your child's throat. The tonsils help fight off germs entering the body through the mouth. They can become swollen and coated with a yellow, gray or white substance. A child with tonsillitis often has a sore throat, fever, swollen glands in the neck and trouble swallowing. Read more.

  • Adenoids are lumps of tissue in the throat behind the nose. Some children are born with enlarged adenoids. Others get repeated infections in their adenoids, which can make them swell. Because they are near the entrance to the breathing passages, enlarged adenoids can affect your child's breathing. They can also affect swallowing, and make ear infections more likely.

  • Microtia means a very small or missing ear. Children with microtia are born with the condition. Microtia varies from child to child. Some may have a small ear that has all of its internal parts. Others may be missing parts inside the ear. Microtia may occur on one or both sides of your child's head. Microtia (PDF), Microtia (Spanish) (PDF)

Services We Offer

  • Ear splinting, or molding, is a way to treat ears that are not shaped normally. We use a soft material to mold your baby’s ear into a more normal shape. Then we secure the mold and ear in place. Gentle pressure from the mold for several weeks to a few months reshapes the ear cartilage. This can change the shape of the ear permanently and may prevent the need for surgery later. Ear splinting can be used with babies soon after birth. It needs to be started before 6 weeks of age.  Ear Splinting (PDF), Ear Splinting (Spanish) (PDF)

  • Surgery to change the shape, position or size of the outer ear is called otoplasty. This surgery may be done for children, usually after age 5 years, when their ears are more fully formed. It can be done to correct problems with the way your child’s ear developed or problems caused by an injury. The details of the surgery depend on what your child needs. The Otolaryngology team can examine your child and explain your options and what to expect.

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