Common Ear Complaints
Otalgia - ear ache (inner ear)
This can be caused by a multitude of reasons from inflammation in all areas of the ear to sinus, adenoid, tonsil, dental or lymph problems.
Tinnitus (inner ear)
The usual cause of tinnitus is damage either temporary or permanent to the vestibulocochlear nerve, the eighth cranial nerve.
Anything that may adversely affect the nerve or auditory mechanism may produce tinnitus, including infections; certain medication such as large doses of Aspirin may cause tinnitus.
Tinnitis is one of the three symptoms of Ménière's syndrome along with vertigo and deafness.
Ménière's disease (inner ear)
The disease is named after a French doctor - Prosper Ménière - who described the condition as being characterised by sudden attacks of dizziness, nausea, vomiting, loss of hearing and a buzzing in the ears.
Ménière's disease is a disease of the inner ear caused by a change in the fluid pressure. This can happen quite suddenly and without warning. The exact cause of the disease is not known, although stress is one of the factors that can bring on an attack.
The symptoms are:
§ dizziness and a sense of vertigo with 'spinning' vision
§ impaired hearing or loss of hearing with noises in the ears (tinnitus).
The dizziness can come out of the blue and be so severe that sufferers need to hold on to someone to avoid falling over. The attack can last for up to 12 hours.
People who have been diagnosed with Ménière's disease will have been told by their doctor that it is important to rest and adopt a low-stress lifestyle. Knowing that the disease can be controlled and that it should eventually improve will have a calming effect, however bad it may have seemed at first.
Taking medicines regularly may prevent attacks. Betahistine acts on the small blood vessels in the ear and is used to treat vertigo, tinnitus and hearing loss associated with Ménière's disease.
Diuretics may improve vertigo symptoms by drawing fluid out of the inner ear. Antihistamines such as cinnarizine and antisickness medicines such as prochlorperazine may also help to prevent and treat attacks.
Reducing the amount of salt in the diet and the intake of tea and coffee may also prove useful.
In severe cases, surgery is an option, but there is no ideal treatment in this area either. An operation to improve the drainage of fluid from the inner ear helps some patients. If this fails, the nerve that controls balance can be cut
Glue ear (middle ear)
This is a build up of sticky fluid in the middle ear, often following ear infections or colds, which can thicken and stop the eardrum moving freely and so impair hearing.
Eustachian Tube Dysfunction or ETD (middle ear)
The noises that you hear in your ears are because of the fluid in the middle ear becoming thickened, usually as the result of a cough or cold. There is a fine tube that runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat called the 'Eustachian tube' and this becomes blocked by this sticky fluid, or mucus. This in turn leads to a pressure build up in the ear, which is released when you talk, swallow, blow your nose or eat. This is why your ears pop.
Sometimes people suffering from ETD get crackling noises in their ears or deafness. The deafness is usually temporary and is as a result of the normal flexible eardrum, or tympanic membrane, becoming stiff as a result of the increased pressure behind it. The eardrum is therefore unable to move when a sound wave hits it and so the sound is muffled when it is heard. The crackling is due to the mucus moving within the middle ear.
It is the blockage of the Eustachian tube that causes pain in the ears when flying as the changes in air pressure make it difficult for the pressure across the eardrum to equalise. This causes the eardrum to be stretched, which is painful.
Otitis Media (middle ear)
This is a middle ear infection causing pain and fever whereby the Eustachian tube becomes blocked.
Otitis Externa (outer ear)
Otitis externa is a potentially serious ear inflammation of the ear canal between the eardrum and the outside of the ear. The ear canal can be easily infected because it is dark and warm and bacteria or fungus may grow there. The ear canal is the only skin-lined cul-de-sac in the human body, which contributes to foreign organisms growing there.
Otitis externa most often occurs when too much water gets in the ear such as after swimming or showering.
It's easier for germs and fungus to grow when water removes the protective earwax. Cleaning your ears can have the same effect. However, excessive earwax can trap organisms in the ear canal and cause OE, as well.
An infection can also develop in the ear canal if you injure the skin there by putting your finger or some other object in your ear. Acne, psoriasis, eczema and other skin conditions that occur in other parts of the body can also occur in the ear canal and cause OE.
To prevent OE, it's important to keep the ear canal's natural defences against infection working well. Keep your ears as dry as possible. However, do not wear earplugs as they can irritate the ear canal. Hearing aids can also irritate the ear canal.
If you have OE, your ear might itch, hurt, feel plugged up, or your hearing might be affected, and the ear might drain. The pain might get worse when your ear moves while you're chewing.
Flushing of the ear from syringing is not recommended because it may cause further damage, particularly if the eardrum cannot be fully observed beforehand. Suctioning is the preferred cleansing option via ear candling.