Conditions We Evaluate
The skin on the outer part of the ear canal, has special glands that produce ear wax, also known as cerumen. Ear wax is helpful in normal amounts and serves to protect the ear from damage and infection. At times, however, too much earwax may accumulate, and it may become too difficult to wash away naturally.
This can lead to earwax, or cerumen impaction, which is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. There is no way to know if you have excessive earwax without having a doctor look into your ears.
If you have been suffering from earaches, drainage, or loss of hearing in one ear, a cholesteatoma may be to blame. A cholesteatoma is an abnormal skin growth that forms when part of the eardrum retracts into the middle ear. Infections or tears on the eardrum can result in an expanding cyst or pouch that pushes into the middle ear. As this pouch expands, it can push on the delicate middle ear bones responsible for transmitting sounds to the inner ear. People suffering with this condition experience symptoms including dizziness, hearing loss in the affected ear, facial paralysis, taste disturbance, and pain or numbness in or around the ear.
Your doctor may recommend a professional examination or surgery to remove the infection and restore normal hearing. Usually, if left untreated, the cholesteatoma will continue to grow, and your symptoms may persist or get worse. A cholesteatoma can be dangerous if ignored; do not wait to ask your doctor about tests and treatments for the condition.
Although rare, mastoiditis is a condition that can develop when ear infections go untreated. Infants and young children are most commonly affected by the disease. Mastoiditis results when the mastoid bone, the prominent bone behind the ear, develops an infection.
This usually happens when a case of acute middle ear infection goes untreated and spreads from the middle ear to into the surrounding bone. In many cases the skin covering the mastoid bone can become swollen and tender, and the ear may be pushed down as the infection grows. Pus that forms within the bone may also leak out through the ear. With proper treatment, mastoiditis is usually curable. If you or a child exhibit ear infection symptoms that do not respond to treatment, see your doctor about tests for mastoiditis.
Middle Ear Infection
Otitis media is an inflammation of the middle ear, or middle ear infection. Middle ear infections develop in the area between the ear drum and the inner ear. When the ears are infected, the eustachian tubes, which are small tubes that connect the middle ear to the back of the nose, become inflamed and swollen. If the eustachian tubes become swollen, fluids form in the middle ear, which cannot flow out to the nose and throat. If left untreated, this can lead to further infection, hearing loss or scarring.
While there is no known cure for otosclerosis, there are treatments available that can slow, or halt the progression of hearing loss. Medications such as sodium fluoride, calcium, or vitamin D, may be helpful, but the benefits have not been proven. Over time, if otosclerosis substantially impacts hearing, a hearing aid can be used to compensate for hearing loss.
Hearing aids will not cure or prevent further hearing loss, but they can help to make you hear better, and improve your quality of life. For people who suffer from significant hearing loss from otosclerosis, the primary treatment is a surgical procedure called a Stapedotomy. Stapedotomy surgery involves removing a portion of the stapes bone and replacing it with a prosthesis. Once the prosthesis is in place, sound vibrations can once again pass to the inner ear, to improve hearing. The treatment plan that’s best for you will depend on the type of otosclerosis you have, how far it has advanced, and your general health. You and your doctor will decide on the best treatment for your hearing loss.
If you or your child has frequent ear infections, if fluid is affecting hearing, or if ear infections don’t respond to antibiotics, then pressure equalization, or PE tube surgery, may be recommended. During this procedure, which in children often requires brief general anesthesia, a surgeon will remove the fluid from the middle ear and insert a small pressure equalization tube. This will allow air to fill the middle ear and allow any future fluid to drain. Over time, the tubes will come out on their own, and the drainage holes will heal. This usually occurs within a year.
A ruptured eardrum is a tear or a hole in the eardrum, the thin membrane which separates the ear canal, from the middle ear. A ruptured eardrum impairs the transmission of sound and may affect your hearing. A ruptured eardrum can also allow outside materials to more easily reach your middle ear, which can cause infection, pain, and ear drainage. Ruptured eardrums may heal within a few weeks without treatment.
Otitis Externa or “Swimmer’s Ear,” is an infection of the skin covering the outer ear, and ear canal. When your ear is exposed to excess moisture, water can remain trapped in your ear canal, leading to infection. Self-care steps can relieve the symptoms of swimmer’s ear. When otitis externa is more severe, treatment may consist of a professional cleaning, topical drops and oral medications.
Tinnitus is noise or ringing in the ears. Typically, the sound tinnitus sufferers hear, is not audible to others. It is usually a ringing, clicking, beating, or hissing sound. Although bothersome, in most cases tinnitus is not a sign of something serious. Unlike in past years, tinnitus can be treated in many cases. Talk to your doctor or hearing professional about your options.
Additional Education & Resources
How the Ear Works: http://www.entnet.org/content/how-ear-works
Education on Ear Conditions: http://www.entnet.org/content/better-ear-health
Earwax and Care: http://www.entnet.org/content/earwax-and-care
To read an article published by Consumer Reports, click on the following link on purchasing a hearing aid.
Hearing Aids Technology Overview
Reasons to consider Two versus One Hearing Aid
For more information on purchasing a hearing aid (from the AAO-HNS) and the types of technology, click here.
NY Times Article on Hearing Aid Loop technology.
NY times Article on Hearing Aid Quality of Life, Alzheimer’s and Dementia