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HEENT: Definition & Exam

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Instructor: Emily Smathers
The acronym HEENT, which stands for head, eyes, ears, nose and throat, is commonly used in the medical term 'HEENT exam' referring to the physical examination of the said body parts. Learn more about the definition of HEENT and discover how a basic HEENT exam is conducted. Updated: 09/29/2021

What Is the HEENT?

Have you ever wondered what the doctor is doing when he or she begins your physical exam? Why do you have to follow the doctor's finger left and right? Why do you have to stick out your tongue? What is the doctor looking for and what is considered normal?

HEENT is the abbreviation for head, ears, eyes, nose, and throat and is usually the beginning of a physical exam. The exam begins with visual assessment and is finished with palpation, if needed. Palpation is touching to determine if deficiencies exist that may be relevant to the current health of the patient. The results from this exam determine the level of care that the patient receives because this exam reveals the overall health status of the patient.

Those in the medical field are taught to begin at the patient's head or the top of the body. Different medical training allows for different exams. For example, a physician focusing on the ears, nose, and throat, or ENT specialist, will focus more on the HEENT exam than a cardiovascular surgeon who would check the head, eyes, ears, nose, and throat but would focus more on how those organs interact with the heart and cardiovascular system.

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  • 0:00 What Is the HEENT?
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Basic HEENT Exam

Head and Neck

The exam starts with the head. In visually examining the head, you look for deformities or asymmetry. If there is swelling, bulge, or dent on the head, gentle pressure or conversation with a patient would determine if the HEENT exam needs to move toward brain injury. If there is deformity, indention, or swelling in the skull of the patient, the patient needs medical intervention as fast as possible. The neck is reviewed at this time and should be symmetrical and without deformity.

Eyes

After the physical condition of the skull has been assessed, you move on to the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. In reviewing the eyes, you look the patient in the eye to assess eye movement, dilation, and general condition. For eye movement, you gauge if the eyes move together or apart, or not at all. In looking at eye dilation, are the eyes similarly dilated or unequal, and do the pupils respond to light?

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