Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist vs. Primary Care Doctor: Breaking the Confusion

ENT doctor with otoscope in hand

Having a consultation for your health or your loved ones can sometimes be stressful. With the different types of doctors and numerous clinics out there, it can be confusing which the right one for you is. In Singapore, ear, nose, and throat problems are very common. And when we experience ear infections or sore throats, we automatically call or consult with their primary care doctor. For our little ones, we run to our paediatricians for a checkup.

There is no doubt that your primary care doctor or paediatrician can address sore throat, ear and nose related infections but the big question is, when should you see an ear, nose and throat specialist?

With the help of Dr. Dennis Chua from entspecialistsingapore.com, this article will remove the confusion between primary care doctor and ear, nose, and throat specialist. He is an ear, nose and throat specialist with 15 years of medical experience. He obtained his Otorhinolaryngology specialist accreditation in Singapore and is fully accredited as an Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon by the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Singapore medical council. Dr. Dennis Chua received several awards and has been recognized as one of the top ear, nose, and throat specialists in Singapore.

What is a Primary Care Doctor?

Primary Care Doctor checking patient health

A primary care doctor is a health care professional who practices general medicine. They are the doctors you see for a non-emergency medical reason or routine checkup. Preventive care is what most primary care doctors do. They can find the cause and administer treatment for fever or cough, sore throat, ear infections and even help you establish a healthy lifestyle and manage your weight. In Singapore, there are several types of Primary Care Doctors:

  • Family medicine doctors – care for patients of all ages.
  • Paediatricians – care for infants, kids, and teens.
  • Internal medicine doctor – care for late teens and adults.
  • Geriatric medicine doctors – focus on care for older adults.

What is an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist?

An ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist is also called Otolaryngologist. We are professionals who are trained to treat patients with ear, nose and throat disorders and diseases. We have been trained in this speciality for years and given accreditation. We are also surgeons and perform delicate operations to restore hearing.

Ear, nose and throat specialist are expert in the following areas:

  • Otology/neurotology: ear diseases and traumas
  • Head and Neck: cancerous and noncancerous tumours
  • Rhinology: nose diseases and traumas
  • Sleep disorders: ear, nose and throat disorders that affect sleep
  • Laryngology: throat disorders
  • Allergies: sensitivity to allergy
  • Pediatric otolaryngology: ear, nose and throat childhood diseases and inborn defects

Can a primary care doctor treat ENT problems?

There are ENT problems that a primary care doctor can treat. You can consult your primary care doctor about the following conditions:

  • Sinusitis (congestion and headaches)
  • Tinnitus (ringing sound in your ears)
  • Hearing loss (due to minor infections)
  • Vertigo (feeling out of balance)

For children with ear, nose and throat problems, paediatricians will usually refer the patient to an ENT specialist. Some paediatricians are wary of handling ENT issues because children’s ears are very sensitive. If your primary care doctor thinks that the condition is too complex or severe, he/she will refer you to an ENT specialist for a proper assessment, diagnosis, and treatment.

When to see an ENT specialist?

Medical instruments for ENT doctor

Again, there is no problem in consulting your primary care doctor first if you have ear, nose and throat problems. But to guide you and avoid confusion, I will give you a list of some severe conditions that may require you to see an ENT specialist right away:

  • Chronic tonsillitis for children and adult
  • Neck lumps which can indicate thyroid or throat cancer
  • Chronic ear infections, especially for children
  • Sudden hearing loss
  • Hoarse voice that lasts for 4-6 weeks (possible damage of vocal cords or polyps)

From my experience, one good example is when patients come to my office with a foreign object (such as fishbone) stuck in their throats. This type of problem needs to be addressed by the ENT right away especially if the object has been stuck for more than 24 hours. Children are prone to this situation and this is why parents must always be watchful of the things that children put into their mouths.

I always advise my patients that with ENT problems, do not try any home remedies as they can do more harm than good and potentially make matters worse. It is much safer to head straight to an ENT specialist.


Ear, nose and throat specialists and primary care doctors all have the same goal, which is to save lives, prevent diseases, and help patients reduce pain and suffering. There might be some confusion with how these doctors can help you, but both are working hand in hand. You can always consult your primary care doctor about your ENT problems but if it is too complex, then you will be referred to an ENT specialist. For sure, your primary care doctor will be able to refer you to a skilled and well-experienced ENT specialist. You may also reach out to Dr. Dennis Chua if you or your loved ones have any ENT problems.


ENT Specialist Singapore
3 Mount Elizabeth, #08-02 Medical Centre,
Singapore 228510
+65 6235 3886