Human beings are blessed with the ability to hear, which is one of the five important senses. Hearing enables us to communicate with others and enjoy so many things. The ear is not only the organ of hearing, but it also plays an important role in maintaining balance of the body. The ear comprises three main parts - outer, middle, and inner ear. The outer ear constitutes the pinna and ear canal. The eardrum separates the outer ear from the middle ear. The middle ear, located behind the eardrum, consists of three small bones called the malleus, incus, and stapes. The inner ear plays a significant role in hearing and balancing, as it consists of balance organs and nerves essential for hearing. Normal functioning of the ear depends upon proper working of all these parts of the auditory pathway. Since ear is a delicate organ, it can get affected with different conditions, thereby causing various symptoms including hearing loss. Given below is a list of some common ear problems.
Ear infections are mainly caused by microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, and viruses, and cause symptoms like ear pain, fever, ear blockage, temporary hearing loss, and dizziness.
Otitis externa: The condition is characterized by inflammation of the ear canal. Otherwise known as swimmer's ear, such inflammation is mainly caused by infection, especially bacterial ones. Rarely, fungi may also cause otitis externa. Excess moisture in the ear due to swimming or humid weather makes the organ more vulnerable to bacterial infection. Apart from that, accumulation of earwax and allergies are also risk factors for otitis externa. The condition causes severe pain, itching, swelling, and redness in the outer ear.
Otitis media: Inflammation of the middle ear is referred to as otitis media. The condition is mainly caused by bacterial or viral infections, food or airborne allergies, adenoid problems, and blockage of the Eustachian tube. It causes symptoms such as severe pain, irritability, hearing loss, and tinnitus. Chronic otitis media is characterized by secretions from the lining of the middle ear. These secretions may become thick, thereby causing glue ear, which can lead to temporary hearing loss.
Otitis interna: Inner ear infections are referred to as otitis interna or labyrinthitis. It usually results from infections in other body parts such as the throat or sinuses. Otitis interna causes symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting, hearing loss, and tinnitus.
Hearing loss means total or partial hearing inability in one or both ears. It can be temporary or permanent. Hearing loss is classified into different types, such as conductive, sensorineural, functional, central, and mixed. The main causes of hearing impairment include ear infections; damage to the ear; aging; genetic conditions such as hereditary nephritis, Cockayne syndrome, Hurler syndrome, and osteogenesis imperfecta; premature birth; and some congenital factors like fetal iodine deficiency. Use of ototoxic drugs like certain antibiotics and anti-malarial drugs may also cause hearing loss. Other causes include traumatic injuries like barotraumas, skull fracture, and traumatic perforation of the eardrum.
Usually, temporary hearing loss is caused by exposure to loud sounds, ear blockage due to accumulation of earwax, and middle ear infections. Damage to the auditory nerve in the brain or the sensory structures of the inner ear, due to infections, tumors or skull injuries, can also result in loss of hearing. Temporary hearing loss can also be associated with autoimmune diseases such as lupus erythematosus or rheumatoid arthritis. Sudden hearing loss is usually caused by trauma, certain infectious diseases, neurological conditions like multiple sclerosis, abnormal tissue growth, circulatory problems in the inner ear, and medications like birth control pills.
Ringing or noise in the ears is known as tinnitus. Inner ear cell damage is the most common cause for this condition. Other causes include ear injuries, age-related hearing loss, exposure to loud noise, earwax blockage, neurological disorders, and abnormalities of the ear bones (as in otosclerosis). Meniere's disease, head injuries, and acoustic neuroma, are some of the less common causes of tinnitus. Certain medications like antibiotics such as erythromycin and chloramphenicol, diuretics, cancer drugs, and quinine can also cause ringing in the ears. Tinnitus causes the irritating sensation of hearing sounds and noises like ringing, clicking, roaring, buzzing, or whistling.
This is one of the inner ear problems that is characterized by recurring attacks of vertigo, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. It also causes tinnitus, hearing loss, ear fullness, sweating, and uncontrollable eye movements. The main reasons for Meniere's disease are middle ear infection, head injury, and syphilis. Allergies, smoking, recent viral infections, respiratory infections, and use of certain medications such as aspirin, are some of the risk factors.
Hearing problems affect not only your health, but also your lifestyle. Therefore, you should take appropriate precautions to prevent ear diseases and eliminate their causes. Protect your ears by avoiding exposure to loud sounds. As soon as you notice symptoms of ear problems, consult the doctor immediately.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.