There are a variety of disorders that can affect the ears that affect hearing and balance including:
- Ear Wax
- Middle Ear Infection
- P/E Tubes
- Perforated Eardrum
- Swimmers Ear
The ability to maintain balance is an essential, automatic function that normally happens without conscious thought. Balance is maintained through a combination of sensory information coming from the eyes, touch, and the vestibular system which is located in the inner ear.
The vestibular system is made up of two organs: the otolithic organs and the semi-circular canals. The semi-circular canals are fluid-filled chambers inside the ear that are lined with specialized hairs cells that contain nerve sensors. Movement of the body causes fluid in the semi-circular canals to move. When the fluid moves, it stimulates the hair cells which in turn send nerve signals to the brain, which are interpreted as movement. The brain receives additional information from the eyes and the sense of touch to further contribute to a person’s sense of location in space. If one aspect of this system of balance is breaks down, chronic dizziness or other balancing issues can occur.
Inside the ear canal is a special type of skin tissue that contains glands that produce ear wax (cerumen). Ear wax can be helpful in normal amounts as it functions to protect the ear from damage and infection. Too much ear wax can accumulate in the ear, however, making it hard for sound waves to reach the inner ear, thus resulting in hearing loss.
Earwax or cerumen impaction is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. To find out if excessive earwax is the cause of hearing loss, a doctor will need to examine your ears.
Earaches, drainage, and loss of hearing in one ear may signal that you have cholesteatoma. A cholesteatoma is an abnormal skin growth that can form if part of the eardrum retracts into the middle ear chamber. A cholesteatoma is a cyst that expands into the middle ear as a result of infection or a tear in the eardrum. As it expands, it may push on middle ear bones, impeding hearing. People who suffer from this condition may experience a variety of symptoms including:
- Facial paralysis
- Hearing loss
- Taste disturbances
- Numbness around the ear
- Pain around the ear
Surgery may be necessary to remove the infected tissue in a cholesteatoma to restore normal hearing. If left untreated, the cholesteatoma may continue to grow and symptoms could get worse or become chronic.
Mastoiditis is a rare condition that can develop if an ear infection is left untreated. It develops when the most prominent bone behind the ear, the mastoid bone develops an infection. The mastoid bone may become infected if a middle ear infection goes untreated. In this case, the area behind the ear may become tender and swollen. Pus may also leak out of the ear. Most commonly, infants and young children are affected by the disease.
Mastoiditis is usually responsive to treatment and entirely curable.
MIDDLE EAR INFECTION/OTITIS MEDIA
A middle ear infection (Otitis Media) involves inflammation due to bacterial, viral, or fungal infection between the ear drum and middle ear. Infection often impacts the small tubes that connect the middle ear to the back of the nose (the Eustachian tubes). When the Eustachian tubes become swollen, fluid can build-up in the middle ear. If left untreated, this can lead to further infection as well scarring and even permanent hearing loss.
Otosclerosis is not curable, but there are treatments that can slow or halt the progression of the disease and the corresponding hearing loss that it can cause. This disease can cause significant hearing loss if left untreated. A hearing aid can be used to compensate for the hearing loss.
Medications that are used to slow the progression of otosclerosis include:
- Sodium fluoride
- Vitamin D
Surgery is another option for individuals who have experienced significant hearing loss due to otosclerosis. The surgical procedure used to treat hearing loss resulting from this disease is known as Stapedotomy. This procedure involves removing a portion of the stapes bone and replacing it with a prosthetic. The prosthetic makes it possible for sound vibrations to pass to the inner ear, improving hearing. A doctor’s consultation will help you decide if this procedure is right for you.
Children who experience frequent ear infections, fluid build-up in the ears that affects their hearing, or ear infections that don’t respond to antibiotics may benefit from PE tube surgery. Brief general anesthesia is required fr this procedure which involves the removal of fluid from the middle ear and the insertion of small pressure equalization tubes. These tubes allow fluid to drain. Over time, usually about 1 year, the tubes will fall out on their own and the drainage holes will heal.
A ruptured eardrum results from a hole in the thin membrane that separates the ear canal from the middle ear. If there’s a hole or tear in this thin tissue, the transmission of sound can be seriously impaired which means hearing loss will occur. A ruptured eardrum can also lead to infection because outside pathogens can easily reach the middle ear. In some cases, the ruptured eardrum may heal itself within a few weeks. In other cases, surgery may be required to repair the hole.
SWIMMERS EAR/OTITIS EXTERNA
Swimmer’s Ear or Otitis Externa is an infection that occurs in the ear canal or outer ear. The infection results from continuous or ongoing exposure to moisture. If water gets trapped in the ear canal it can lead to infection. Simple self-care can alleviate the symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear. In severe cases topical drops and oral medications may be prescribed.
A patient who experiences a ringing or continuous noise in their ears when the sound is not audible to others is experiencing tinnitus. The noise may be a ringing, clicking, beating, or hissing sound. Tinnitis is not typically a sign of a serious disorder, though it can be troublesome. Though in the past, tinnitus was incurable, today treatments exist to treat the problem. Talk with your doctor about tinnitus treatment options.