What Are Some Common Diseases Of The Ear?
Every day, our team of highly qualified hearing care professionals diagnose and treat a wide range of ear diseases in patients of all ages. This ranges from tinnitus which can cause a constant ringing or humming sound, to Meniere’s disease that can bring with it dizziness and vertigo, to Swimmer’s ear, an infection in the ear canal.
While many ear diseases are not serious, others may indicate a more serious underlying issue that warrants further investigation. As such, uncovering the cause of your hearing symptoms or ear problems and creating a tailored and timely management plan is a big part of what our team does. Our hearing care professionals can give you peace of mind using advanced technology to detect changes early, and accurately discern between various conditions that may appear to have similar symptoms. This allows you to begin appropriate treatment promptly to preserve your hearing and maintain your overall ear health.
Ten of the most common ear diseases that our hearing care professionals see include:
1. Middle Ear Infections
Middle ear infections, known medically as otitis media, are an infection located behind your ear drum, and usually occur when something stops fluid from draining from the middle ear. Normally, the area behind the eardrum is filled with air. However in a middle ear infection, this space can become blocked and filled with mucus, which can become infected with bacteria or viruses, causing inflammation, pain and swelling. Rarely, it may result in a ruptured eardrum.
A middle ear infection can happen after an infection or a swollen adenoid, and they most commonly affect children due to their narrow eustachian tubes. Middle ear infections won’t generally resolve on their own, so it’s important to visit your hearing care professional if you experience any of these symptoms so they can get you started on the appropriate treatment plan and prevent infections coming back in the future.
To read more about what causes middle ear infections, visit our recent blog article here.
2. Swimmer’s Ear
Swimmer’s ear, known medically as otitis externa, is an infection or inflammation of the external ear canal, which connects the outer ear with the eardrum. People can develop this condition after swimming in the ocean, in lakes, or in swimming pools. It occurs when water fails to exit from the ear canal, and the bacteria from the trapped water multiplies inside the ear in the warm, moist conditions.
Children are most at risk of developing swimmer's ear, as their narrow eustachian tubes can make it difficult for water to exit on its own, as can excess ear wax. Thankfully, this condition can be treated effectively by an ear health professional, who can also work alongside you to develop strategies to remove water effectively when swimming.
1. Presbycusis (Hearing Loss)
Presbycusis is the medical name for age-related hearing loss, which often begins around the age of 50, and continues to worsen as people become older. It’s surprisingly common: approximately one third of all adults over the age of 65 years have some degree of hearing loss, and this increases to 81% of those over 80 years, and 93% of those over 90. Both ears are usually affected, and people often find that it impacts on their ability to hear higher pitches more than lower ones, making it difficult to hear children speak, along with trouble hearing people speak when there is a lot of background noise.
Age-related hearing loss can have a range of causes, and everyone’s experience is unique. In order to find the best solution for your circumstances, our hearing care professionals take a holistic approach and conduct a number of tests as part of our hearing assessment to assess your overall ear health, uncover the underlying cause of your hearing concerns, and create a tailored management plan to help - no matter your age or degree of hearing loss.
To read more about age-related hearing loss, visit our recent blog article here.
4. Meniere’s Disease
Meniere’s Disease is a disorder that impacts your inner ear, and may be characterised by dizziness, vertigo, a feeling of fullness in the ears, tinnitus (ringing or other sounds in the ears) and some degree of hearing loss, along with a range of other symptoms.
Meniere’s Disease is caused by changes within the inner ear, specifically in the endolymphatic sac, a semicircular canal otherwise known as ‘the labyrinth’ which transmits sound signals to your brain and helps you to perceive balance. Unfortunately, there’s currently no complete cure for Meniere’s disease, however, our trusted team of hearing care professionals can work with you to relieve troubling symptoms and alleviate discomfort with a range of techniques that can be tailored for you with an individual treatment plan.
5. Glue Ear
Glue ear is a condition which develops when the fluid inside the ear becomes thick, like glue. It can be caused by a blockage in the eustachian tube, which results in a build-up of fluid within the middle ear cavity, and this gets thicker over time. Glue ear often follows repeated ear infections, and it frequently occurs after someone has a cold. It’s most common in children due to their narrow ear canals, especially if they live with smokers.
Over time, glue ear can impact hearing, speech, learning and behaviour. People with glue ear may have trouble with hearing, balance, sleeping, or feel pressure or pain, but often there are no obvious signs - so it’s important for both adults and children to have regular ear health checks with a hearing care professional to pick up on any issues so they can be treated effectively and promptly.
Tinnitus is frequently recognised as 'ringing in the ears', however everyone's experience with it is unique: people with this disease may also hear humming, hissing, buzzing, whooshing, roaring or even clicking. Technically, tinnitus can be used to describe any noise that occurs in the ears without the presence of an external sound, and it’s surprisingly common: it is estimated to affect 2 out of every 3 Australians at some point in their lives.Tinnitus is a sign that something is malfunctioning in one or multiple parts of the auditory system, which is made up of the ear, the auditory nerve which connects the ear to the brain, and the parts of the brain that make sense of the sounds we hear.
Interestingly, tinnitus is not a condition or disease in and of itself, but is a symptom of many other possible conditions, including hearing loss, infection, injury, tumours, ear wax, certain medications, neurological factors, or even blood flow issues. This is why an important part of managing tinnitus is identifying this underlying cause alongside the support of a hearing care professional, who can conduct a comprehensive assessment to assess your overall ear health, help to uncover the underlying cause of your tinnitus, and create a tailored management plan to help you manage your symptoms.
To read more about tinnitus, visit our recent blog article here.
7. Acoustic neuroma
An acoustic neuroma, otherwise known as a vestibular schwannoma is a rare, non-cancerous tumour located on the eighth cranial nerve, one of the main nerves that sends messages from the inner ear to the brain. It can slow down the speed that these messages travel to the brain, and may slowly interfere with hearing as it grows in size. Your brain may also “create noise” in the form of tinnitus to fill in the gaps of missing sounds. However, hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, fullness, dizziness and other symptoms of an acoustic neuroma can also be caused by a range of other, more common ear problems, so it’s important to consult your hearing care professional who can accurately diagnose and treat the neuroma, or something else.
Mastoiditis is a serious bacterial infection that affects the mastoid bone located behind the ear. Mastoiditis typically happens when a middle ear infection is not properly treated, and the infection continues to spread into the surrounding bone. It can cause fever, irritability, lethargy, swelling of the ear lobe, redness and tenderness, and fluid discharge out of the ear. If left untreated, it can lead to complications including hearing loss, vision changes, blood poisoning, nausea, vomiting, facial paralysis and meningitis, so it’s important to seek care with a hearing care professional as soon as possible if you’re experiencing symptoms, so that the appropriate treatment can be started as soon as possible.
Tympanosclerosis is the medical name for scarring of the eardrum due to damage from injury, infection, glue ear, a ruptured eardrum, or surgery. People with tympanosclerosis have white chalky calcium deposits on their eardrum that can cause it to thicken and harden, and make it more difficult for the eardrum to move normally, affecting hearing. Some people with tympanosclerosis don’t experience significant changes to their hearing, however many do, in which case a hearing care professional can work with you to design an effective treatment plan which may involve corrective surgery, or customised hearing aids.
Osteosclerosis is a disease in which a person experiences abnormal bone growth in the ear, specifically between the three tiny bones which vibrate in response to sound, and transmit the information to the inner ear, which then sends these messages to the brain. In otosclerosis, the stapes or stirrup bone begins to fuse with surrounding bone, and over time it becomes fixed so that it cannot move, which means that sound can no longer be transmitted effectively into the inner ear.
It’s not clear exactly what causes otosclerosis, however it seems to run in families, and can often get worse during pregnancy, indicating possible hormonal factors. People with osteoporosis experience hearing loss and typically lose their ability to hear lower pitches first, and they may also experience tinnitus, and a sense that their own voice is very loud. Hearing loss can continue gradually over months or a few years, and may continue to get worse if ignored and left untreated, which is where a hearing care professional can step in to treat the hearing loss with either hearing aids or a referral for surgery.
No matter your concerns, we’re here to help. To book your comprehensive ear and hearing assessment with one of our experienced team members, contact one of your local clinics here.