The Only Fellowship-Trained Pediatric Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist in South Texas

Syboney Zapata, MD, joined the Driscoll Health System in February 2019 as a Pediatric Otolaryngologist – known more commonly to the public as an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Specialist.

Dr. Zapata has the distinction of being the only Fellowship-Trained Pediatric ENT Specialist in all of South Texas. To earn that credential, a physician must complete a full residency in Otolaryngology, then follow it up with either a 1- or 2-year training program focused solely on children who have Otolaryngology issues.

What that means for patients in the region is access to someone who has specifically trained to treat infants, children and adolescents with ear, nose and throat problems, which Dr. Zapata said is quite different from treating an adult who has ear, nose and throat problems.

Why become a Pediatric ENT Specialist?

For Dr. Zapata, the desire to become a surgeon has been there since childhood.

The choice of Otolaryngology came later. “Once I entered my training, I realized that the field of Otolaryngology has very intricate anatomy associated with it. Although it doesn’t seem like a very big area to operate in the ear, the nose and the throat, there’s quite a breadth of pathology that occurs in those regions and makes for very interesting surgery, I think.”

“Most of the spaces that we have to operate on are extremely small and intricate, so we have to use a lot of specialized equipment – scopes and microscopes and miniature instruments – to achieve what we’re trying to do to help our patients.”Syboney Zapata, MD

For Dr. Zapata, there were a number of reasons to focus on the pediatric side of the ENT field. “I get to take care of children from almost the moment that they’re born until they are teenagers and graduating from high school. I have some patients that I have seen grow and develop and mature, and have the unique circumstance of being almost part of the family as they endure some of the difficult things that can sometimes be involved in our field.”

“Even if we’re seeing patients for a single visit or a single surgery, the satisfaction of improving the health of that child with a very straightforward procedure is very satisfying both to me, and I think to the patients as well. That brings me quite a bit of joy on a daily basis,” said Dr. Zapata.

While there are unique positives to being a Pediatric ENT Specialist, there are also challenges.

“I would say as a Pediatric ENT Physician, you are having to deal with very stressful situations. Almost anything that involves an emergency airway usually requires a Pediatric ENT Specialist,” said Dr. Zapata.

“Most of the spaces that we have to operate on are extremely small and intricate, so we have to use a lot of specialized equipment – scopes and microscopes and miniature instruments – to achieve what we’re trying to do to help our patients.”

A return to South Texas

For Syboney Zapata, a position with the Driscoll Health System meant a return to home. Dr. Zapata grew up in South Texas, and according to her, serving as a pediatric specialist in the region is something special. “For me, it’s absolutely an honor. I would say that, as the only Pediatric Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist for this area, I feel that it does give me a strong sense of responsibility to the community to do my very best every day to help those patients,” said Dr. Zapata.

“I’m also from this area and I feel that I was able to achieve what I have thus far with my career because I had the support of this community, so I feel like it’s really a way for me to give back.”

“I think for me, being part of the Driscoll Health System means that I’m part of a community that puts children first.”Syboney Zapata, MD.

The present, future of the Pediatric ENT field

Pediatric Otolaryngology currently faces challenges similar to those faced by nearly every other medical specialty, according to Dr. Zapata. “We’re always striving to improve our methods, our techniques, our outcomes, always striving to improve the safety of our surgical procedures, so that our patients are receiving the very best care that they can for their health,” she said.

As for the future of Pediatric Otolaryngology, Dr. Zapata predicts a lot of growth. “There is definitely a shift for children to be able to see someone who is specifically trained as a Pediatric Subspecialist. I think, hopefully, there will be more Pediatric Ear, Nose and Throat Specialists available, and improve the access for the children in our communities.”

She added, “I think there’s a lot going on with improving the technology for Pediatric Ear, Nose and Throat. Cochlear implants and other hearing devices are becoming more sophisticated. There continues to be a shift toward less invasive surgery and the use of more endoscopes, so that recovery times are much shorter and surgical outcomes are improved.”

A career with Driscoll Health System

For Dr. Zapata, the Driscoll Health System is an environment of working alongside others who share a similar belief when it comes to treating pediatric patients. “I think for me, being part of the Driscoll Health System means that I’m part of a community that puts children first.”

Dr. Syboney Zapata is a Fellowship-Trained Pediatric ENT Specialist. That credential is earned by completing a full residency in otolaryngology, followed by a 1- or 2-year training program focused solely on children who have otolaryngology issues.

“In the short amount of time that I’ve been part of the Driscoll Health System, I’ve found that every other pediatric specialist who works here all have the same vision and goal. It’s great to be able to work with a team of other pediatric specialists where we really are trying to provide the best healthcare for all the children in South Texas.”

Quick Takes on Pediatric ENT Topics with Dr. Syboney Zapata

Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear is an infection often brought on by water remaining in the ear after swimming.

• Signs to watch out for:
Dr. Zapata: “(Signs include) pain when you touch the outer part of the ear, swelling on the outer part of the ear, as well as drainage coming out of the ear canal.”

• Preventing swimmer’s ear:
Dr. Zapata: “The best way to prevent swimmer’s ear infection is to maintain a dry ear after swimming. The easiest way to do that is with a hair dryer. Use it on a low setting, with cool temperature, hold it several inches away from the ear and dry your ear out after you’re done swimming for the day. There are also ear drops that you can buy at a general pharmacy or a grocery store. Those ear drops are alcohol-based ear drops and they act as drying agents for the ear. They are unsafe in certain patients – these would be patients who have a perforated eardrum or an ear tube in their ear drum, so to be on the safe side, the hair dryer is a very safe, simple and inexpensive way to prevent swimmer’s ear.”

• Treatment:
Dr. Zapata: “Swimmer’s ear is generally treated with a topical antibiotic ear drop and dry ear precautions.”

Ear Infections

Ear infections are an inflammatory process that happens inside the ear, behind the eardrum.

Signs to watch out for:
Dr. Zapata: “Symptoms of ear infections include fever, pain inside the ear. Your child may be tugging or rubbing their ear if they’re young and they cannot communicate verbally. They may act very fussy and irritable. They may have trouble sleeping through the night. They may have a decreased appetite as well.”

• Dangers of frequent ear infections:
Dr. Zapata: “Frequent ear infections can lead to chronic infections that can spread to other parts of the ear that would require surgery. There are situations where patients also have difficulty hearing because of retaining fluid in the ear from an ear infection. This could lead to speech issues or speech delay. In rare circumstances, the infection can spread into the bone behind the ear or even into the brain, causing meningitis.”

• Treatment:
Dr. Zapata: “Most ear infections are treated with antibiotics that you take by mouth.”

Ear Tubes

• What they are and what they do:
Dr. Zapata: “Ear tubes are a very small plastic, synthetic material that look like empty spools of thread. An ear tube is placed into the eardrum for children who suffer from very frequent or chronic ear infections, or in situations where they have chronic fluid inside their ears that is affecting their hearing or their speech.”

• Typical age for ear tubes:
Dr. Zapata: “The most common age that ear tubes are placed are approximately ten months of age, up to about two years of age.”

• Surgery details:
Dr. Zapata: “Surgery for ear tubes entails a very short outpatient visit with general anesthesia. That anesthesia is usually administered with a gas mask. A microscope is then utilized to visualize the eardrum, and a very small incision is made in the eardrum. Any fluid or infection that is present is removed, and a small plastic ear tube is inserted through that opening.”