Glossary of Medical Terms

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Acoustic Neuroma

An acoustic neuroma is a benign (not cancer) tumour, arising from the sheath of the hearing nerve. The hearing nerve passes through a bony canal into the brain from the inner ear. It is here that the tumour usually grows. Although it is benign and slow growing, if is grows to a large size, it may eventually cause severe problems. This may cause numerous neurological problems with ultimate death. It usually occurs between the ages of 30-40 years, slightly more common in women. 10% of acoustic neuromas present with hearing loss in the affected ear. Also patients may present with tinnitus (noise in ear), see handout on website, or balance disturbance.


Adenoidectomy is the removal of adenoid tissue which is located in the back of the nose. The nose is designed for breathing and it is normal to breathe through the nose rather than the mouth. The aim of removing adenoids and cauterizing inferior turbinates is to improve airflow through the nasal cavity by reducing the bulk of these tissues. The airflow through the nasal cavity will improve and as a result the patient is able to breathe easier, snoring is reduced and less mucus will be present within the nasal cavity.


A medical specialist who diagnoses and treats disorders of the ear encompassing hearing loss and balance problems. Audiologists can distribute custom ear plugs, hearing aids and assess the need for cochlear implants.


Often means that a tumor is not cancerous (malignant), but is also sometimes used to describe a disorder which is not progressive or otherwise harmful to your health.


A sample of tissue which is sent to a laboratory to be evaluated by a pathologist. For example, biopsies of tumors are often taken to determine if the tumor is cancerous or benign. A sample of tissue can be acquired in many ways such as surgically, via an endoscope, or by needle aspiration.


A dense rubbery connective tissue which is somewhat elastic. Examples of structures in the human body which are composed of cartilage include parts of the ear, nose and rib cage.

Choanal Atresia

Newborn children are obliged to breathe through their nose. After several months, they develop an ability to breathe through both the mouth and nose but, until that time, they must breathe through the nose. As a result, whenever the posterior aspect of the nasal passages does not open during development, a condition known as choanal atresia, children typically develop significant respiratory distress. The condition can be on either one or both sides. When it is one-sided, children often present with a prolonged history of one-sided nasal drainage and not much in the way of nasal obstruction. In contrast, children with bilateral choanal atresia generally present with significant respiratory distress that is relieved only by crying and mouth breathing. When either of these conditions is suspected, inability of a physician to pass a catheter through the nose will lead on to suspect the condition. A CT scan can be obtained then to confirm the diagnosis. Once this has been accomplished, definitive surgical repair may take place either through the mouth or the nose depending on the severity of the condition. Prior to the repair, placement of an oral airway may be helpful in "buying time" until surgery takes place. Oftentimes, children with choanal atresia have other congenital abnormalities as well. Consultation with a genetics expert should be considered.

Complete Tracheal Rings

Although complete tracheal rings are extremely rare, they are still the commonest cause of congenital tracheal stenosis. Complete tracheal rings (or "O" rings) are always smaller than normal "C" shaped rings, and may severely compromise a child's airway. While some children with complete rings will have a large enough airway not to need surgery, over 80% will need an operation to correct the narrowing of the airway. Children with a narrow trachea due to complete tracheal rings usually have noisy breathing that gets worse as they grow. The noise classically sounds like they have something to cough up, but can't ("washing machine" breathing). Children may also retract as they breathe, and when severe may have near death experiences. Over 50% of children with complete rings have other congenital anomalies. Often there are heart or other vascular abnormalities, and these may need to be fixed at the same time as the airway is fixed. Some children with few symptoms do not need urgent surgery. We monitor several such children, some for as long as 16 years, and a proportion will never need surgery. Some will require surgery at a later date, but the operation is easier in a bigger child. However most children need urgent surgery, especially if they present as a baby. Surgical correction is a highly specialized area, usually requiring a team approach. There are several possible operations, but in our hands the slide tracheoplasty (which shortens the trachea, but makes it much wider) has been the most successful. In 2001 we performed 6 successful slide tracheoplasties. In some cases the trachea can be repaired through a neck incision, but more commonly the airway repair requires a sternotomy, with the child placed on cardiopulmonary bypass.

Congenital Aural Atresia

Aural atresia refers to a failure of the ear canal to develop and open properly. Patients with aural atresia may or may not have a normal appearing outer ear, but do not have a patent ear canal and do not have a normal eardrum. In many cases of microtia and / or aural atresia, the inner ear hearing structures have formed normally and nerve hearing levels may be normal. In such cases, a child's hearing loss will likely be conductive in nature since sounds cannot be transmitted to the inner ear efficiently. It is not uncommon for the middle ear structures to be affected (abnormally developed) when the external ear is affected. Structures such as the ear canal, the eardrum and the middle ear hearing bones are often underdeveloped, fused or absent in such instances. Evaluation for microtia and aural atresia often involve a comprehensive examination, audiologic testing as well as imaging studies (e.g., CAT scan) to evaluate the middle and inner ear structures. Since these congenital abnormalities are usually noticed at birth, early management concepts include ensuring that a child's hearing is normal in at least one ear (or both ears are adequately amplified) such that communication skills develop properly. Any type of hearing restoration or ear reconstruction procedures (if desired by the family) is usually delayed until the baby is older -- both for functional, aesthetic as well as patient safety considerations.

Congenital Deafness

One out of every 2,000 children born in the United States has moderate or worse hearing loss, making congenital hearing loss one of the most common birth defects in the U.S. Of these cases, half will have a genetic / hereditary basis to their deafness. Therefore, the study of genes involved in hearing and deafness is crucial to our understanding and care of children with hearing loss. After a hearing loss has been identified in a child, a comprehensive evaluation is begun to seek the cause. Most cases of hearing loss are from an obvious cause (i.e., ear infections) and no further diagnostic testing is needed. In most cases of sensorineural hearing loss, the cause is not obviously known and your ear specialist (pediatric otologist) will take a thorough medical history and perform a physical examination. Many different factors can cause SNHL with genetic causes accounting for over 50% of cases. Non-genetic (hereditary) factors that can be identified include infections (meningitis, cytomegalovirus [CMV], syphilis), hyperbilirubinemia (jaundice at birth), medications (aninoglycoside antibiotics and cisplatin chemotherapy), trauma (skull fractures), immune dysfunction (autoimmune inner ear disease) and blood dyscrasias (hypercoaguable states, sickle cell disease). The appropriate evaluation for children diagnosed has long been controversial. It is well accepted that talking with and examining child and family are the most important tools to determine the cause of hearing loss. Many of the syndromes associated with SNHL can be diagnosed in this fashion. Further testing remains controversial. The debate centers on the yield and cost-effectiveness of specific tests in contrast with the risks of failing to identify a potentially significant disorder. Possible diagnostic tests include various urine and blood tests, electrocardiograms, and imaging studies. Recent studies have suggested that the high resolution CT scan ("CAT scan") may identify the reason for the SNHL in 15% of cases. Genetic testing is a process by which our unique genetic code is determined to discover the cause a particular disorder. Presently, 3 genes are available for routine screening and as technology and our knowledge improves, complete panels of all deafness related genes will be realized. Approximately one-third of all children with significant hearing loss will be positive for testing for the GJB2 gene (aka Connexin 26). It is now recommended that all children with hearing impairment be screened with this simple blood test. Besides being able to diagnose many of these children with a single test, this may prevent the need of other time consuming and expensive test that are routinely performed.

CT Scan

CT is short for computed tomography, which is an imaging procedure that uses x-rays and a sophisticated computer to simulate detailed pictures of the inner structures of the body.


If an infection is suspected, a sample of fluid from the ear, nose or throat will be obtained. The sample will be taken to a laboratory and placed in a culture medium to help identify the the organism. After a sufficient period of time, the bacteria or virus will multiply in the right medium. When enough bacteria is present, the organism may be identified by looking at it under a microscope; this is called a culture. If the organism is bacterial, a second test can be done to determine which antibiotics the organism will respond to.


A class of medications that work to dry up secretions (congestion) by causing the blood vessels to constrict. Decreased blood flow helps reduce swelling in mucous membranes and the amount of fluid they secrete. An example of a decongestant is pseudoephedrine (Sudafed).

Deviated Septum

The septum is the cartilage wall that separates the nasal passages into two separate nostrils. The septum should be centered dividing the nostrils evenly. If the septum leans to one side or the other, it is deviated. Deviated septum can be caused by trauma or it can be congenital. When the septum is deviated, it can block airflow through one of the nostrils.

Ear Infection

Occurs when germs become trapped inside the middle ear. Symptoms can include pain that gets worse at night, irritability, decreased appetite, fever and dizziness. Infants are more likely to have irritability and poor eating rather than more specific symptoms such as ear pain. Also known as Otitis Media


An instrument that looks like a small tube with a light on the end. It is used by doctors to see organs or cavities in the body. The sinuses can be seen by inserting an endoscope through the nose.


Endoscopy is a procedure in which a long tube with a small light and camera on the end (an endoscope) is inserted into a natural orifice so that the interior of an organ or part of the body can be viewed. This is performed to diagnose certain medical conditions and is usually done under sedative medication to make the procedure more comfortable for the patient. During an endoscopy, biopsies and retrieval of foreign objects can also be done.


ENT (ear, nose and throat) or Otolaryngology is the branch of medicine that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of ear, nose, throat, and head and neck disorders. The full name of the specialty is otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. Practitioners are called otolaryngologists-head and neck surgeons, or sometimes otorhinolaryngologists (ORL). The term comes from the Greek ωτολαρυγγολογία (oto = genitive for ear, laryngo = genitive for larynx/throat, logy = study), and it literally means the study of ear and neck. The full term ωτορινολαρυγγολογία (otorhinolaryngology), also includes rhino, which is the genitive of nose. Otolaryngology is one of the most competitive specialties to enter for physicians.


An esophagogastroduodenoscopy,(EGD), is a procedure during which a small camera, (an endoscope,) in the form of a long tube is passed through the mouth and down into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum, the first portion of the small intestine. Doctors use this procedure to view and diagnose disorders of these parts of the body. The procedure is done on an outpatient basis. Sedative medication is given to make the procedure more comfortable. Before having an esophagogastroduodenoscopy, you will receive instructions not to eat for six to eight hours.

Eustachian Tube

The eustachian tube is a tiny tube that originates in the ear and drains into the back of the throat. The tube usually functions to keep unwanted germs and debris out. If this tube is too small or becomes clogged by fluid and mucus, bacteria or other microbes may be able to enter the ear and cause an infection.

Frontal Sinuses

Two hollow air filled recesses in the skull on each side of the forehead.

Functional Endoscopic Sinus Surgery (FESS)

Functional endoscopic sinus surgery (FESS) is a surgical modality for some diseases of the nose and paranasal sinuses. It is the mainstay in the surgical treatment of sinusitis and nasal polyposis, including fungal sinusitis. FESS is a relatively recent surgical procedure that uses nasal endoscopes (using Hopkins rod lens telescopes) to minimize cutting and trauma to the skin. These endoscopes have diameters of 4mm and 2.7mm and come in varying angles of vision from 0 degrees to 30, 45, 70, 90, and 120 degrees. They provide good illumination of the inside of the head and can be introduced into the nose after anesthetising. FESS came into existence because of pioneering work of Messerklinger and Stamberger (Graz, Austria.) Other surgeons have made additional contributions (first published in USA by Kennedy in 1985).[1] The surgical technique usually adopted is the Messerklinger technique.


GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. GERD is a condition in which acid and stomach contents travel in reverse direction up the esophagus. This may be caused by the failure of the lower esophageal sphincter to close correctly. This causes acid and stomach contents to come up the esophagus and into the back of the throat. Also known as: acid reflux

Glue Ear

Medically known as otitis media with effusion, glue ear is different from acute otitis media, which is a short-term ear infection. Both involve inflammation of the middle ear ('otitis media'), both involve a build-up of fluid, and both are common in babies and young children. Four out of five children will get at an ear infection at some stage. But unlike glue ear, acute otitis media is accompanied by short-lived pain and fever. Acute otitis media can sometimes turn into glue ear, or the reverse can happen: glue ear can lead to an acute infection.


Probably the commonest childhood operation is the insertion of grommets - little ventilation tubes - to relieve fluid in the middle ear: so-called 'glue ear'. The idea is to prevent developmental problems like speech difficulties from associated hearing loss.

Lymph Node

Lymph nodes are small structures found all over the body. They act as a filter to trap unwanted pathogens or debris. Enlarged lymph nodes can indicate an active infection, such as strep throat or mono, or in some cases, cancer. Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

An MRI is a device used for medical imaging which, unlike x-rays and CT scans, uses magnets and radio waves to take pictures of the body. Because an MRI machine uses powerful magnets, you cannot have an MRI if you are wearing or have certain types of metals implanted in your body. Some studies have also suggested that cochlear implants can interfere with the images. MRIs are usually done in the hospital and take about 1 to 2 hours. You should tell your doctor beforehand if you are claustrophobic, as you will have to pass through a very narrow space for the MRI.


A medical term referring to a disease that is progressive and cannot be contained without intervention. The term is most commonly used when talking about cancer. For example, a non-malignant tumor would not be cancerous or generally harmful, but a malignant tumor would be cancerous and capable of growing and invading surrounding structures.


One of three tiny bones residing in the inner ear. Malleus is Latin for hammer and the shape of this bone does in fact resemble a hammer. The malleus vibrates in response to sound and then transmits that sound to another small bone called the incus. The three bones are necessary for sound conduction and any damage to these bones can cause hearing loss.

Maxillary Sinus

The maxillary sinuses consist of two hollow air-filled recesses in the bones of the face, located in the cheeks.

Meniere’s Syndrome

Meniere’s Syndrome is a condition where there is hearing loss, tinnitus (noise in ears), vertigo (spinning sensation), fullness in the ear.


This is a thickening of the eardrum due to infection.


Myringoplasty is the surgical procedure performed to repair a hole in the ear drum. There are a number of reasons to repair a hole in the ear drum. Firstly, if there is a hole in the ear drum it causes reduced hearing and this is called a conductive hearing loss. By repairing the ear drum the hearing can improve. A second reason to have the ear drum repaired is that is provides a dry ear. When there is a hole in the ear drum there is a communication between the outside environment, the middle ear and subsequently into the nose. This can cause recurrent ear infections with discharge of pus via the ear. This may occur as water can enter the middle ear during times of showering, bathing and swimming. Further more there can be entry of bacteria via the nose and resulting ear infections.

Nasolacrimal Duct

The nasolacrimal duct is also called a tear duct. It is a small canal that runs from the medial side of the eye into the nose and allows excess tears to drain into the nose.


Neurolabrythitis is a rare condition that causes inflammation of the vestibular system. The vestibular system is the portion of the inner ear that receives information about the position of the body and its balance, and then relays that information to the brain. Symptoms of neurolabrythitis include vertigo, nausea and vomiting, visual impairment, one-sided hearing loss, loss of balance and instability when walking, concentration impairment, and tinnitis.

Ossicular Disarticulation

This is where there has been a dislocation of the Ossicles within the middle ear. This is usually due to trauma such as a hit to the ear.


An otolaryngolgist is a doctor who specializes in treating disorders of the ear, nose and throat. Also known as: ENT


Otoplasty is a cosmetic surgery to change the appearance of a person's external ears.


A handheld piece of medical equipment which allows a doctor to visualize the outer and middle ear. Also known as: auriscope


This is hearing loss of ageing. As we age, our hearing deteriorates. This usually is in the higher frequency range.


Rhinoplasty is surgery to repair or reshape the nose. This may be performed for cosmetic reasons or to correct a deformity due to injury or birth defect. Almost all of these operations are performed through the nostrils, which means there are no visible cuts (or subsequent scars) to the face.

Septoplasty Turbinectomy

Septoplasty is the surgical procedure to correct a bent septum of the nose. Turbinectomy is the surgical procedure to partially or completely remove the swollen turbinate bones. The septum is the midline party wall that divides the two sides of the nose and if this wall is bent, air flow through the nose may be blocked. This wall can be bent by the nose being broken or may simply grow in a bent way. On the side walls of the inside of the nose are the turbinates. These turbinates are like a curtain hanging down from the side of the nose and their function is to humidify the air that is breathed through the nose. In many instances these swell to an enormous size and block the nose in particular with hay fever sufferers. When the procedure is performed, the curtains are trimmed so they are less bulky and therefore do not block the nose.

Serous Otitis Media

Serous otitis media is a condition in which fluid resides in the middle ear. It can be caused by an ear infection or any other condition in which the auditory tube is unable to drain properly. It's most common in children and occurs with or without symptoms. Symptoms include hearing and balance problems; therefore it can cause developmental delays in some children. The condition is often treated with a surgical procedure called a myringotomy.

Sinus Cavity

One of the hollow recesses in the skull surrounding the eyes and nose.


It’s estimated that around 20 per cent of the population snores at night. Snoring isn’t physically harmful to the person who snores, but it is highly irritating to anyone kept awake by the noise. More men snore than women, with around one-quarter of males prone to snoring. Snoring may also be a symptom of significant sleep disordered breathing or obstructive sleep apnoea. During sleep, the muscles of the soft palate and uvula (the structures found in the back of the throat) tend to relax and vibrate when the person breathes. This happens both when breathing through the nose or the open mouth. This relaxed tissue vibrates as air moves back and forth across it, making the characteristic noise.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy is conducted by a speech therapist, who is trained to diagnose disorders of speech and communication, swallowing and more. Speech therapy may be recommended for children who are developmentally delayed in communication, people who have difficulties swallowing and/or are inadvertently inhaling food into their lungs, or people who have had laryngeal cancer or other disorders of the throat that have impaired their language abilities. Speech therapy can also be used as a method of voice coaching for people who have damaged their vocal cords.


A Stapedectomy may be performed when the condition Otosclerosis is present. Otosclerosis is a condition that causes progressive hearing loss. The hearing loss is usually in both ears and most patients identify hearing loss during their late teenage years or early adulthood. The operation is performed down the ear canal, usually by a small incision just in front of the ear itself. An operating microscope is used to lift the ear drum forward and open the middle ear. The stapes is removed with special instruments. A small opening is made in the inner ear and an artificial piston prosthesis is then inserted into the hole and a crimping wire connects the piston to the remainder of the bones, namely the incus.

Stenosis of Ear Canal

This is where the ear canal is smaller than would be expected. This occurs in certain situations such as Downs Syndrome. Exostosis is where the bone grows inward blocking the canal

Swimmer's Ear

An infection of the outer ear, also called the ear canal. It is more common among swimmers due to the fact that their outer ear is often wet, creating an environment for bacteria or other germs to grow.


Tinnitis is the abnormal constant background noise perceived as ringing, buzzing, tapping, roaring, etc. It can be caused by ear trauma, medication overdose, age-related hearing loss, disease, or prolonged exposure to loud noises.


Tonsillectomy is the surgical procedure to remove the tonsil tissue mass which lies on each side of the soft palate. Adenoidectomy is the surgical procedure to remove the adenoidal tissue from the back of the nose. Adenotonsillectomy is the removal of both the tonsils and the adenoids. Reasons for removal of the tonsils and adenoids are episodes of chronic tonsillitis, glandular fever, quinsy, sleep apnea and obstruction to the airway. Both the tonsils and the adenoids play a weak role in the defence against viruses and bacteria and when removed, there is not a change to the overall immune status.


The tonsils are a collection of lymphoid tissue located on either side of the back of the throat. In contrast, the adenoids are a similar type of tissue located behind the nose and above the palate. These structures can become inflamed secondary to either viral or bacterial infections, the best known being "strep throat." In children with a positive step culture, use of antibiotics is necessary to treat the infection and to prevent potential complications such as rheumatic fever. In some children with a severe tonsillitis, an abscess may form in the tissue around the tonsil. In children with a positive step culture, antibiotic treatment is needed. When infections become recurrent (greater than 4 to 6 per year), removal of the tonsils and adenoids is helpful. Additionally, children who have extremely large tonsils and obstructed breathing may benefit from removal of the tonsils and adenoids also.


Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils causing them to become visibly red and swollen. The tonsils sit at the back of the mouth and are part of the body's immune system.

Tympanic Membrane (Eardrum)

The tympanic membrane is the thin piece of tissue that separates the external structures of the ear from the middle and inner ear. Also called the eardrum, the tympanic membrane receives sound and carries the vibration to the tiny bones inside the ear.


Tympanometry testing is used to assess the condition of the ear drum and middle ear. It is performed by inserting a tympanometer into the ear canal. Prior to tympanometry testing, the physician will visualize the ear canal to evaluate for obstruction such as from impacted earwax. The tympanometer looks like an otoscope. However, it delivers soundwaves, while a vacuum creates both positive and negative pressures within the ear canal. The returned energy creates a waveform that a physician can use to evaluate for disorders of the middle ear. This wave form is called a tympanogram. No risks are associated with this test. Possible disorders of the middle ear that can be evaluated by tympanometry include: * acute otitis media * tympanosclerosis * tumor in the middle ear * tympanic membrane scarring * perforated tympanic membrane * otosclerosis * cholesteatoma


A bell-like piece of tissue which hangs down from the roof of the mouth towards the back of the throat. The uvula contains some glands and contributes to some sounds in speech.

Uvulopharyngopalatoplasty (UPPP)

Uvulopharyngopalatoplasty is the surgical procedure to remove the uvula and some of the surrounding tissue in the back of the throat. The procedure is performed for treatment of snoring and obstructive sleep apnea. The operation changes the shape of the pharynx removing soft tissue from the pharynx which is obstructing the airway and hence preventing good airflow during breathing.


Vertigo (from the Latin vertigin-, vertigo, "dizziness," originally "a whirling or spinning movement," from vertō "I turn"[1]) is a specific type of dizziness, a major symptom of a balance disorder. It is the sensation of spinning or swaying while the body is actually stationary with respect to the surroundings. The effects of vertigo may be slight. It can cause nausea and vomiting and, in severe cases, it may give rise to difficulties with standing and walking. Vertigo is qualified as height vertigo when referring to dizziness triggered by heights.[citation needed] "Vertigo" is often used, incorrectly, to describe the fear of heights, but the correct term for this is acrophobia.

Vestibular-Evoked Myogenic Potential (VEMP)

A vestibular-evoked myogenic potential (VEMP) may be ordered as a diagnostic test when you have certain symptoms of dizziness. While dizziness is common, there are many things that can cause it, and sometimes finding the cause can be challenging. Sometimes dizziness is related to problems in the inner ear. The inner ear has two portions: the balance system (vestibular system), and the hearing system (cochlea). The VEMP is a computerized test used to measure portions of the vestibular system that may be related to your dizziness.

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