Some Little Known Ear Disorders

Like vision, hearing is one of the major senses that is required for the normal communication. Ears play an important role in our daily life and it is involved in the complex mechanism. The sound mechanism is divided into three parts:

  • Outer Ear
  • Middle Ear
  • Inner Ear

The outer and the inner ear serves to amplify the sound signal and the function of the inner ear is to transduce vibration into nerve impulses. Ears are sensitive and there are various ear disorders that affect the hearing power and are associated with other symptoms as well. Some of the ear disorders are as follows:

1. Otitis externa

Otitis externa is also known as swimmer’s ear and it is a condition in which the outer ear gets inflamed. It is an infection in the ear canal which is characterized by the redness, pain, swelling of the ear canal and itching in the ear. An infection occurs when the water remains in the ear canal and the moist environment leads to the growth of bacteria and sometimes even fungus. There are several factors that act as risk factors and contributes to the development of otitis externa. Swimming is the most common factor but other factors include skin conditions such as eczema and seborrhea, trauma from cerumen removal, use of external devices such as hearing aids, and cerumen buildup. These factors primarily work through the loss of the protective cerumen barrier, disruption of the epithelium, inoculation with bacteria, and an increase in the pH of the ear canal. The discomfort in the ear can range from mild to severe pain that is triggered by motion of the ear. Sometimes, on rare occasions, an infection spreads to the surrounding soft tissue and bone. This condition is known as malignant otitis externa. It becomes a medical emergency and it primarily occurs in patients with diabetes mellitus.

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2. Tinnitus

Numerous studies suggest that tinnitus is not a disease but it is a symptom that acts as a sign that something is wrong with the auditory system. The auditory system includes the ear, the auditory nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain and the parts of the brain that is responsible for processing sound. Tinnitus is commonly described as a ringing in the ears and it can also sound like roaring, clicking, hissing, and buzzing. There are many reasons that could cause tinnitus such as sometimes, a piece of earwax can block the ear canal and cause this condition. It can also be the warning sign of a various underlying condition such as

  • Sinus infection
  • Brain tumors
  • Thyroid abnormalities
  • Hormonal changes
  • Noise-induced hearing loss

People working in the noisy environment are at a higher risk of developing tinnitus over time and this is because a constant exposure to noise damages tiny hair cells in the inner ear that helps in transmitting sound to the brain. Tinnitus has different types and pulsatile tinnitus is a rare type which creates a sound like a pulsing in the ear.

3. Otitis Media

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear which is characterized by the inflammation which begins with a sore throat, colds or other respiratory problems that spread to the middle ear. It can cause a temporary hearing problem. Otitis media is of two types:

  • Acute Otitis Media - Acute otitis media occurs when there are signs of middle ear effusion along with the signs and symptoms of an acute infection.
  • Otitis Media With Effusion - Otitis media with effusion occurs when there are signs of middle ear effusion but there are no signs and symptoms of acute infection.

Otitis media is more common in children as compared to the adults and this is because children have more trouble fighting infections as their immune systems are still developing. Also, middle ear problems are the most common problems in children that are diagnosed by the doctors. Otitis media is a serious disorder and is associated with various serious complications. It requires immediate treatment and if it is left untreated, it can travel to nearby parts of the head including the brain. Untreated otitis media can lead to permanent hear loss. This ear disorder is often accompanied by unusual irritability, difficulty sleeping, loss of balance and fever.

4. Labyrinthitis

Labyrinthitis is a disease that is defined as an inflammation within the inner ear, known as the labyrinth. Labyrinth contains the structure that controls the hearing and balance. This condition occurs when the nerve that goes to the inner ear gets infected by a virus or bacteria. Any damage to the inner ear nerve have a direct effect on the balance and hearing and this nerve damage can cause dizziness, poor balance, changes in hearing. There are various evidences that suggests that labyrinthitis can be caused by some viral and bacterial infection such as upper respiratory tract infection or influenza. People who suffer from this disease often complain of sudden unilateral loss of hearing, headache and flickering of eyes.

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