4 Common Ear, Nose and Throat Problems

Causes, Symptoms, and Risks You Should Know

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There are many different ear, nose, and throat (ENT) disorders and an even greater variety of characteristic symptoms. The following list involves the four most common ENT disorders. Not everyone will experience the same set of symptoms or have them as intensely. In some cases, a healthcare provider or ENT specialist will be needed to make the correct diagnosis and offer the appropriate treatment.

Doctor examining throat of patient in clinic
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Ear Infections

Ear infections are one of the most prevalent ENT disorders. They occur when germs become trapped inside the middle ear.

The eustachian tube, a tiny canal that originates in the ear and drains into the back of the throat, usually keeps unwanted germs out. If this tube is too small or becomes swollen shut by swelling or clogged by fluid and mucus, bacteria, or other microbes can enter the ear and cause an infection. ​

Signs and symptoms of an ear infection include:

  • Pain and pressure
  • Fever
  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fluid discharge (suggestive of a perforation)

Ear infections are more common in children than adults and the most common type of infection in infants and toddlers. If a young child has an ear infection, it can often be difficult to detect. Telling signs in infants and toddlers include:

  • Pulling or tugging on the ears
  • Increased fussiness, especially at bedtime
  • Failure to startle at loud noises or respond to their name
  • Eating or drinking abnormally

Strep Throat

Strep is an abbreviation for a family of bacteria called Streptococci. Strep throat occurs when the throat and surrounding structures become infected with this germ. While strep throat is a common infection, many other infections have the same symptoms.

Symptoms are usually abrupt in onset including:

Notably absent in strep throat are a runny nose and cough. You may also suspect strep throat if you have been exposed to someone with a strep infection in the last two weeks. Children between the ages of 5 and 15 are most at risk. You are also more likely to get a strep infection during the winter months.

Strep throat must be diagnosed by a throat culture or rapid antigen test at your healthcare provider's office to confirm a streptococcal infection versus a different bacterial or viral infection.


Sinusitis occurs when a germ multiplies in the hollow recesses of the skull that surrounds your eyes and nose. The infection can become trapped, causing inflammation, pressure, and pain

Acute sinusitis is often secondary to a common cold, so you are more likely to get sinusitis during the winter months. Chronic sinusitis in which symptoms persist for more than 12 weeks may occur as a result of an untreated allergy or a chronic condition such as bronchial asthma.

Symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • Headache
  • Cough
  • Nasal discharge
  • Congestion
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Toothache (mainly of the molars)

Sleep Apnea

Apnea is a medical term meaning to stop breathing. Sleep apnea is a disorder causing one to stop breathing for brief periods of time while sleeping. Symptoms include:

  • Waking up frequently in the middle of the night
  • Feeling unrefreshed upon awakening
  • Daytime drowsiness
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Waking up with a dry, sore throat
  • Morning headaches

In addition to these symptoms, many individuals with sleep apnea have been told by a spouse or family member that they snore, gasp, choke, or even stop breathing momentarily while sleeping. You are more likely to have sleep apnea if you are overweight, have enlarged tonsils, or take sedatives at bedtime.

Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) occurs in 2% of middle-aged women and 4% of middle-aged men, particularly those who are obese. If left untreated, sleep apnea can cause potentially serious health complications, including hypertension (high blood pressure), coronary artery disease, stroke, and heart failure.

A Word From Verywell

The majority of people will experience one or more of these disorders in their lifetime. While visiting with your healthcare provider, discussion of your symptoms may help your healthcare provider to come up with a diagnosis of an ENT disorder.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Karunanayake CP, Albritton W, Rennie DC, et al. Ear infection and its associated risk factors in first nations and rural school-aged Canadian children. Int J Pediatr. 2016;2016:1523897. doi:10.1155/2016/1523897

  2. Martin JM. The mysteries of streptococcal pharyngitis. Curr Treat Options Pediatr. 2015;1(2):180-9. doi:10.1007/s40746-015-0013-9

  3. Kennedy JL, Borish L. Chronic sinusitis pathophysiology: The role of allergy. Am J Rhinol Allergy. 2013;27(5):367-71. doi:10.2500/ajra.2013.27.3906

  4. Badran M, Ayas N, Laher I. Cardiovascular complications of sleep apnea: role of oxidative stress. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2014;2014:985258. doi:10.1155/2014/985258

Kristin Hayes

By Kristin Hayes, RN
Kristin Hayes, RN, is a registered nurse specializing in ear, nose, and throat disorders for both adults and children.