Six Common Diseases of the Ear

Pinpointing the cause of ear pain or a hearing issue always requires professional diagnosis. But knowing more about some common diseases of the ear and the nerves that send sound signals to the brain can help you know what to expect after you have an examination by your audiologist. Let’s take a look at 10 relatively common conditions that your audiologist may rule out — or verify in consultation with your physician — when you come in with ear pain or a hearing problem.

Acoustic neuroma

Acoustic neuroma sounds ominous, doesn’t it? An acoustic neuroma is a tumor on the “insulation” of one of two nerves that send messages from the ear to the brain.

A neuroma may slow down the speed at which messages are transmitted from the ears to the brain. It’s possible that a neuroma can cause sudden hearing loss, but it’s more likely that it will slowly interfere with your hearing. Your brain may “fill in the gaps” of faulty signal transmission with “noise” that causes tinnitus. You may have facial pain or problems with your eyes.

If there is anything good about an acoustic neuroma, it’s that it is usually a problem with just one ear. Your audiologist can tell whether your hearing problem is likely to be acoustic neuroma or something else.

Otosclerosis

You have bones in your ear. These tiny structures vibrate to detect sound. When they are subjected to unusual pressure over an extended period of time, they may harden so they don’t conduct sound to your inner ear. Typically, people who have otosclerosis lose their ability to hear lower pitches first and then lose their ability to hear higher pitches. They may also start hearing buzzing or ringing sounds due to tinnitus.

There are specific frequencies that are affected first when patients have otosclerosis. Your audiologist will test your sensitivity to a tuning fork and your ability to hear those frequencies as part of preliminary screening for the disease.

Otosclerosis is more common in women than in men. It may appear during pregnancy or just after childbirth. The disease can also be caused by measles.

Otitis media

If you have otitis media, inflammation of the middle ear, you probably know it. This common condition results in redness above your mastoid bone (the bone behind your ear), fever, drainage from the ear canal, difficulty hearing, a sensation of fullness in the ear, and/or ringing in the ears.

If you come in with these symptoms, your audiologist will act on the high likelihood that you have some kind of bacterial infection, usually an infection with strep bacteria. Most of the time otitis media requires antibiotics. It can also help to chew gum sweetened with xylitol, which is toxic to bacteria. But don’t try to beat a nasty ear infection on your own.

Otitis Media Ear Diagram

Otitis externa

When people start wearing hearing aids, sometimes they develop sore ears. That’s because a hearing aid makes it easier for bacteria to spread across the surface of the ear. People also get this condition after swimming in the ocean or in other bodies of untreated water.

Otitis can be wet or dry, causing oozing or flaking skin. Hearing aid wearers will need treatment to be able to continue using their hearing aids.

Presbycusis

Presbycusis is a kind of hearing loss that appears as people reach maturity. It may begin at the age of 50 and be very noticeable by the time someone is in their 60’s. It usually affects both ears and affects the ability to hear higher pitches more than it affects the ability to hear lower pitches. It causes the “cocktail party effect,” the inability to hear voices in a crowd.

Your audiologist usually can prescribe hearing aids that help a great deal in restoring the ability to home in on the sounds you want to hear. For your part, you may have to ask your doctor about alternatives to aspirin-like medications and avoid exposure to loud sounds.

Blast injury

A blast usually involves a very, very loud noise. Primary blast injury is the damage to the delicate structures of the inner ear caused by extremely loud noise. It’s also possible to have secondary blast injury from flying objects or debris and tertiary blast injury if your body is thrown by the explosion.

Blast injury can cause a range of symptoms. Sometimes someone who has been through a blast will feel like their ears are clogged. They may have trouble hearing.

Or a blast injury can cause someone to have hyperacusis, super sensitivity to sound as the brain strains to detect signals from the ears. Blast injuries can also result in ringing in the ears, or balance problems. Blast injuries can also cause tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

Time heals blast injuries. But it’s always a good idea to have your audiologist check your hearing to make sure there aren’t additional problems.

blast injury

Harbor Audiology is here to help.

Your hearing specialists at Harbor Audiology can help you find the care you need for the best hearing possible. Our staff can help you with insurance or VA benefits, and we have offices conveniently located in Sequim, Silverdale, Tacoma, Gig Harbor, Port Angeles, and Bainbridge Island. Request your appointment online today!

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