Should you follow up on ear, nose and throat concerns during COVID-19?

If you're not sure whether your individual concerns need treatment, don't hesitate to call your doctor's office and ask.

Just because the country is sheltering in place because of coronavirus, other common medical concerns like ear, nose and throat (ENT) problems don't just disappear. Luckily, in some instances, you can still follow up on your concerns.

From allergies and hearing loss to chronic ear infections, here's what you need to know about tackling your ENT problems in the age of COVID-19.

Following up on continued concerns: allergies, hearing loss and more

Mid-Michigan Ear, Nose and Throat is one of many practices helping patients strike the right balance of caution and care. Patients with common and ongoing ENT conditions like allergy-related sinusitis may still be able to consult with their regular doctor without having to come to the office in person.

"We're starting to see the trees bloom and pollens are high, so we definitely want people to continue their allergy treatments because that will help keep their immune system under control," said Dr. Ahmed Sufyan, a double board-certified ENT and facial plastic surgeon at the practice.

If you call your ENT's office and tell them about your condition, they'll be able to advise you on the best way to proceed.

"I think that if people choose to not treat their allergies or put off their allergy treatments or other conditions, obviously some of these conditions can get worse. It can lead to increased inflammation, which can then lead to possibly polyps in the nose, which really lead to more problems down the road," Dr. Sufyan explained.

Other possible conditions that ENT doctors may be able to assess without an in-person appointment include assessing causes of hoarseness and following up with patients who have known hearing loss and need to maintain or acquire additional support with their hearing aids, Dr. Sufyan said.

Seeking treatment for urgent cases

In some urgent scenarios, ENT practices are seeing patients in person or at a hospital for while taking necessary precautions to do so safely. They may also see patients who have had surgery performed recently for follow-up visits.

"If they're a patient of our practice, then we will occasionally bring someone in after they're screened and make sure that they have no symptoms and it's safe to see them, but that is a pretty rare thing," Dr. Sufyan said.

Urgent ENT-related conditions may include head and neck cancers, for example, which can be life-threatening if ignored. Common symptoms of these cancers can include a lump or mass in the head or neck area, difficulty swallowing or a sore throat that won't go away. These concerns should be raised with a doctor for further evaluation. 

"For those that just really require urgent matters to be addressed, we will bring them in on a limited basis," Dr. Sufyan said. ""A lot of what we're doing is triage, so in the future my hope is that we'll be able to resume our normal standard." 

If your condition is urgent or is one that could deteriorate with time, call your doctor's office immediately to determine the best way to proceed.

When to wait: chronic ear infections or other non-urgent concerns

Of course, there are some instances where ENT concerns aren't urgent or time-sensitive and don't warrant the risk of seeing the doctor in person given the current circumstances. In these cases, the best course of action is for patients to wait until their ENT opens their office to regular patients.

"A lot of what we do involves looking in someone's nose, looking inside someone's ear, looking down their throat. It's really impossible to do a diagnostic exam through telemedicine," said Dr. Sufyan.

For example, one common problem that ENT doctors treat is chronic ear infections, especially in children. Without being able to look at the child's ear drum, it limits an ENT's abilities to make decisions about how to move forward.

Here, too, it's worth checking with your doctor to get their official recommendation, but be aware that you will likely be advised to wait until the coronavirus pandemic stabilizes. Doctors are optimistic that the wait won't necessarily be long.

"We're in discussions with many doctor's offices, not only ours but other specialties, and trying to figure out what is the appropriate time to bring patients back. At this point we are hopeful," Dr. Sufyan said.

Learning to be vigilant

Both now and in more normal times, following up on your ENT concerns can help alleviate frustrating and even potentially dangerous symptoms. Dr. Sufyan noted that people often live with common conditions such as trouble breathing due to a deviated septum or hearing loss that they assume is simply age-related or inevitable, or that treatments would be complicated or painful.

"Historically, ear, nose and throat surgeries were major surgeries. I think patients should be aware that we have new technologies. There are many in-office interventions that we can provide that are done with almost no pain. It's better to get something looked at and see what the options are instead of ignoring, wait until things get worse."

For more information on ENT symptoms and treatments, visit