Conditions that impair ear function can be as minor as wax buildup or as serious as congenital deafness. This section contains valuable information about how to protect your hearing, how to recognize indications of hearing disorders, and what ENT-head and neck physicians can do to evaluate and treat these problems.
From ear wax to cochlear implants. Learn more about the wide range of hearing-related topics, below.
Your child with a hearing loss can succeed - in school, in work, and in life! It is important to keep this as your focus, whatever your child's age or degree of hearing loss. While you will have the support of many professionals, ultimately you as parents will make many decisions about what is in the best interest of your child. As with all children, there is no magic formula for raising a child with a hearing loss. It helps to maintain a positive attitude, educate yourself about hearing loss, seek out the best resources, and take an active role in your child's education. Most of all, keep in mind that your child is a child first, and a child with a hearing loss second.
This online booklet is written for parents of children of all ages and all degrees of hearing loss. With so much to cover, the information presented here is only a brief overview, supplemented with a variety of reference and resource materials so you can follow up on subjects more thoroughly. In addition, you are encouraged to join the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing for access to a huge variety of resources, including educational programs for you and your child, a large inventory of books and other publications, video tapes, conferences, and a national support network.
Will your child have a "normal" life? While some mild-moderate losses can be surgically or medically corrected, most hearing loss is a permanent condition. Thus, your child's life will have its challenges. However, these challenges sometimes turn into advantages. For example, the ability to work hard and concentrate more, coupled with the routines of audiologic and language therapy, frequently produces children who are self-disciplined and focused. Moreover, the outcomes for children with hearing loss have greatly improved in the last two decades due to major advances in technology and emphasis on programs of early detection and early intervention.
Emotional Impact of the Diagnosis: Parents can benefit from counseling and support after the diagnosis of hearing loss. Grief, anger, fear and denial are natural responses for hearing parents to feel when they find out their child has a hearing loss. Their expected "normal" child has a problem and this problem is going to present many challenges. We convey love through our words and tone of voice as well as through hugs and kisses. We soothe a child through the sound of our voice, or by singing a lullaby. We teach children that the objects in their room, their toys, their food, and the people around them all have names. We show children how to pronounce words by our example. We discipline and warn children of danger through words as well as actions. How are we going to do this now?
LDeaf parents of deaf children are not necessarily prone to grief because they are already familiar with living in a world without sound. Deaf parents may feel more comfortable with a child who is deaf, because this seems natural. But this isn't the case for most hearing parents, who probably know little or nothing about hearing loss and who may never have known a child with a hearing loss. Many deaf parents will teach their child sign language as naturally as hearing parents unconsciously teach their child to speak. But hearing parents must commit themselves to the goal of helping their child listen and speak in order to participate fully in a hearing world, or the equally arduous task of becoming fluent in sign language and learning about Deaf culture.
Grief is a common emotion and an honest expression of disappointment and fear of the unknown. Grief that is not acknowledged or dealt with can lead to denial of a child's problem, which in turn can lead to procrastination in taking constructive action. Unacknowledged grief can lead to unfocused and displaced anger on the part of parents which can last a lifetime. Acknowledging grief, painful as it may be, will clear away anger and denial, allowing parents to most effectively nurture their child.
An abnormal skin growth in the middle ear behind the eardrum is called cholesteatoma. Repeated infections and/or and a tear or retraction of the eardrum can cause the skin to toughen and form an expanding sac. Cholesteatomas often devolop as cysts or pouches that shed layers of old skin, which build up inside the middle ear. Over time, the cholesteatoma can increase in size and destroy the surrounding delicate bones of the middle ear. Hearing loss, dizziness, and facial muscle paralysis are rare, but can result from continued cholesteatoma growth.
What causes a cholesteatoma?
A cholesteatoma usually occurs because of poor eustachian tube function as well as infection in the middle ear. The eustachian tube conveys air from the back of the nose into the middle ear to equalize ear pressure ("clear the ears"). When the eustachian tubes work poorly, perhaps due to allergy, a cold, or sinusitis, the air in the middle ear is absorbed by the body, creating a partial vacuum in the ear. The vacuum pressure sucks in a pouch or sac by stretching the eardrum, especially areas weakened by previous infections. This can develop into a sac and become a cholesteatoma. A rare congenital form of cholesteatoma (one present at birth) can occur in the middle ear and elsewhere, such as in the nearby skull bones. However, the type of cholesteatoma associated with ear infections is most common.
How is cholesteatoma treated?
An examination by an otolaryngologist—head and neck surgeon can confirm the presence of a cholesteatoma. Initial treatment may consist of a careful cleaning of the ear, antibiotics, and ear drops. Therapy aims to stop drainage in the ear by controlling the infection. The growth characteristics of a cholesteatoma must also be evaluated.
A large or complicated cholesteatoma usually requires surgical treatment to protect the patient from serious complications. Hearing and balance tests, x-rays of the mastoid (the skull bone next to the ear), and CAT scans (3-D x-rays) of the mastoid may be necessary. These tests are performed to determine the hearing level in the ear and the extent of destruction the cholesteatoma has caused.
Surgery is performed under general anesthesia in most cases. The primary purpose of surgery is to remove the cholesteatoma so that the ear will dry and the infection will be eliminated. Hearing preservation or restoration is the second goal of surgery. In cases of severe ear destruction, reconstruction may not be possible. Facial nerve repair or procedures to control dizziness are rarely required. Reconstruction of the middle ear is not always possible in one operation; therefore, a second operation may be performed six to 12 months later. The second operation will attempt to restore hearing and, at the same time, allow the surgeon to inspect the middle ear space and mastoid for residual cholesteatoma.
Surgery can often be done on an out-patient basis. For some patients, an overnight stay is necessary. In rare cases of serious infection, prolonged hospitalization for antibiotic treatment may be necessary. Time off from work is typically one to two weeks.
After surgery, follow-up office visits are necessary to evaluate results and to check for recurrence. In cases where an open mastoidectomy cavity has been created, office visits every few months are needed to clean out the mastoid cavity and prevent new infections. Some patients will need lifelong periodic ear examinations. Cholesteatoma is a serious but treatable ear condition which can be diagnosed only by medical examination. Persistant earache, ear drainage, ear pressure, hearing loss, dizziness, or facial muscle weakness need to be evaluated by an otolaryngologist.
Symptoms and dangers
Initially, the ear may drain fluid with a foul odor. As the cholesteatoma pouch or sac enlarges, it can cause a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear, along with hearing loss. An ache behind or in the ear, especially at night, may cause significant discomfort.
Dizziness, or muscle weakness on one side of the face (the side of the infected ear) can also occur. Any or all of these symptoms are good reasons to seek medical evaluation.
An ear cholesteatoma can be dangerous and should never be ignored. Bone erosion can cause the infection to spread into the surrounding areas, including the inner ear and brain. If untreated, deafness, brain abscess, meningitis, and, rarely, death can occur.
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that restores partial hearing to the deaf. It is surgically implanted in the inner ear and activated by a device worn outside the ear. Unlike a hearing aid, it does not make sound louder or clearer. Instead, the device bypasses damaged parts of the auditory system and directly stimulates the nerve of hearing, allowing individuals who are profoundly hearing impaired to receive sound.
What Is Normal Hearing?
Your ear consists of three parts that play a vital role in hearing—the external ear, middle ear, and inner ear.
- Conductive hearing: Sound travels along the ear canal of the external ear causing the ear drum to vibrate. Three small bones of the middle ear conduct this vibration from the ear drum to the cochlea (auditory chamber) of the inner ear.
- Sensorineural hearing: When the three small bones move, they start waves of fluid in the cochlea, and these waves stimulate more than 16,000 delicate hearing cells (hair cells). As these hair cells move, they generate an electrical current in the auditory nerve. It travels through inter-connections to the brain area that recognizes it as sound.
How Is Hearing Impaired?
If you have disease or obstruction in your external or middle ear, your conductive hearing may be impaired. Medical or surgical treatment can probably correct this.
An inner ear problem, however, can result in a sensorineural impairment or nerve deafness. In most cases, the hair cells are damaged and do not function. Although many auditory nerve fibers may be intact and can transmit electrical impulses to the brain, these nerve fibers are unresponsive because of hair cell damage. Since severe sensorineural hearing loss cannot be corrected with medicine, it can be treated only with a cochlear implant.
How Do Cochlear Implants Work?
Cochlear implants bypass damaged hair cells and convert speech and environmental sounds into electrical signals and send these signals to the hearing nerve.
The implant consists of a small electronic device, which is surgically implanted under the skin behind the ear and an external speech processor, which is usually worn on a belt or in a pocket. A microphone is also worn outside the body as a headpiece behind the ear to capture incoming sound. The speech processor translates the sound into distinctive electrical signals. These 'codes' travel up a thin cable to the headpiece and are transmitted across the skin via radio waves to the implanted electrodes in the cochlea. The electrodes' signals stimulate the auditory nerve fibers to send information to the brain where it is interpreted as meaningful sound.
Cochlear Implant Benefits
Implants are designed only for individuals who attain almost no benefit from a hearing aid. They must be 12 months of age or older (unless childhood meningitis is responsible for deafness).
Otolaryngologists (ear, nose, and throat specialists) perform implant surgery, though not all of them do this procedure. Your local doctor can refer you to an implant clinic for an evaluation. The evaluation will be done by an implant team (an otolaryngologist, audiologist, nurse, and others) that will give you a series of tests:
- Ear (otologic) evaluation: The otolaryngologist examines the middle and inner ear to ensure that no active infection or other abnormality precludes the implant surgery.
- Hearing (audiologic) evaluation: The audiologist performs an extensive hearing test to find out how much you can hear with and without a hearing aid.
- X-ray (radiographic) evaluation: Special X-rays are taken, usually computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, to evaluate your inner ear bone.
- Psychological evaluation: Some patients may need a psychological evaluation to learn if they can cope with the implant.
- Physical examination: Your otolaryngologist also gives a physical examination to identify any potential problems with the general anesthesia needed for the implant procedure.
Implant surgery is performed under general anesthesia and lasts from two to three hours. An incision is made behind the ear to open the mastoid bone leading to the middle ear. The procedure may be done as an outpatient, or may require a stay in the hospital, overnight or for several days, depending on the device used and the anatomy of the inner ear.
Is There Care And Training After The Operation?
About one month after surgery, your team places the signal processor, microphone, and implant transmitter outside your ear and adjusts them. They teach you how to look after the system and how to listen to sound through the implant. Some implants take longer to fit and require more training. Your team will probably ask you to come back to the clinic for regular checkups and readjustment of the speech processor as needed.
What Can I Expect from An Implant?
Cochlear implants do not restore normal hearing, and benefits vary from one individual to another. Most users find that cochlear implants help them communicate better through improved lipreading, and over half are able to discriminate speech without the use of visual cues. There are many factors that contribute to the degree of benefit a user receives from a cochlear implant, including:
- how long a person has been deaf,
- the number of surviving auditory nerve fibers, and
- a patient's motivation to learn to hear.
Your team will explain what you can reasonably expect. Before deciding whether your implant is working well, you need to understand clearly how much time you must commit. A few patients do not benefit from implants.
FDA Approval For Implants
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates cochlear implant devices for both adults and children and approves them only after thorough clinical investigation.
Be sure to ask your otolaryngologist for written information, including brochures provided by the implant manufacturers. You need to be fully informed about the benefits and risks of cochlear implants, including how much is known about how safe, reliable, and effective a device is, how often you must come back to the clinic for checkups, and whether your insurance company pays for the procedure.
Costs Of Implants
More expensive than a hearing aid, the total cost of a cochlear implant including evaluation, surgery, the device, and rehabilitation is around $40,000. Most insurance companies provide benefits that cover the cost. (This is true whether or not the device has received FDA clearance or is still in trial.)
Protruding and drooping ears or torn earlobes can be surgically corrected. Exceptionally large ears or those that stick out make children vulnerable to teasing. These procedures do not alter the patient's hearing, but they may improve appearance and self-confidence.
What Is Involved in "Pinning Back" the Ears?
Corrective surgery, called otoplasty, should be considered on ears which stick out more than 4/5 of an inch (2 cm) from the back of the head. It can be performed at any age after the ears have reached full size, usually at five or six years of age. Having the surgery at a young age has two benefits: the cartilage is more pliable, making it easier to reshape, and the child will experience the psychological benefits of the cosmetic improvement. However, a patient may have the surgery at any age.
The surgery begins with an incision behind the ear, in the fold where the ear joins the head. The surgeon may remove skin and cartilage or trim and reshape the cartilage. In addition to correcting protrusion, ears may also be reshaped, reduced in size, or made more symmetrical. The cartilage is then secured in the new position with permanent stitches which will anchor the ear while healing occurs.
Typically otoplasty surgery takes about two hours. The soft dressings over the ears will be used for a few weeks as protection, and the patient usually experiences only mild discomfort. Headbands are sometimes recommended to hold the ears in place for a month following surgery or may be prescribed for nighttime wear only.
Can Ear Deformities Be Corrected?
The "fold" of hard, raised cartilage that gives shape to the upper portion of the ear does not form in all people. This is called "lop-ear deformity," and it is inherited. The absence of the fold can cause the ear to stick out or flop down. To correct this problem, the surgeon places permanent stitches in the upper ear cartilage and ties them in a way that creates a fold and props the ear up. Scar tissue will form later, holding the fold in place.
Some infants are born without an opening in their middle ear. These ears can be surgically opened, and the outer ear reshaped to look like the other ear. This procedure will restore hearing if the inner ear is intact.
Those who are born without an ear, or lose an ear due to injury, can have an artificial ear surgically attached for cosmetic reasons. These are custom formed to match the patient's other ear. Alternatively, rib cartilage or a biomedical implant, in addition to the patient's own soft tissue, can be used to construct a new ear.
Can Torn Earlobes Be Corrected?
Many mothers have had their earlobes torn by a baby's tug on their earrings. Earrings also catch on clothing and other objects, resulting in torn earlobes. These tears can be easily repaired surgically, usually in the doctor's office. In severe cases, the surgeon may cut a small triangular notch at the bottom of the lobe. A matching flap is then created from tissue on the other side of the tear, and the two wedges are fitted together and stitched.
Earlobes usually heal quickly with minimal scarring. In most cases, the earlobe can be pierced again four to six weeks after surgery to receive light-weight earrings.
Does Insurance Pay for Cosmetic Ear Surgery?
Insurance usually does not cover surgery solely for cosmetic reasons. However, insurance may cover, in whole or in part, surgery to correct a congenital or traumatic defect. Before cosmetic ear surgery, discuss the procedure with your insurance carrier to determine what coverage, if any, you can expect.
Insight into causes and treatment options
- Who needs ear tubes and why?
- What to expect after surgery
- and more ...
Painful ear infections are a rite of passage for children – by the age of five, nearly every child has experienced at least one episode. Most ear infections either resolve on their own (viral) or are effectively treated by antibiotics (bacterial). But sometimes, ear infections and/or fluid in the middle ear may become a chronic problem leading to other issues such as hearing loss, behavior, and speech problems. In these cases, insertion of an ear tube by an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat surgeon) may be considered.
What Are Ear tubes?
Ear tubes are tiny cylinders placed through the ear drum (tympanic membrane) to allow air into the middle ear. They also may be called tympanostomy tubes, myringotomy tubes, ventilation tubes, or PE (pressure equalization) tubes. These tubes can be made out of plastic, metal, or Teflon and may have a coating intended to reduce the possibility of infection. There are two basic types of ear tubes: short-term and long-term. Short-term tubes are smaller and typically stay in place for six months to a year before falling out on their own. Long-term tubes are larger and have flanges that secure them in place for a longer period of time. Long term tubes may fall out on their own, but removal by an otolaryngologist is often necessary.
Who Needs Ear Tubes?
Ear tubes are often recommended when a person experiences repeated middle ear infection (acute otitis media) or has hearing loss caused by the persistent presence of middle ear fluid (otitis media with effusion). These conditions most commonly occur in children, but can also be present in teens and adults and can lead to speech and balance problems, hearing loss, or changes in the structure of the ear drum. Other less common conditions that may warrant the placement of ear tubes are malformation of the ear drum or Eustachian tube, Down Syndrome, cleft palate, and barotrauma (injury to the middle ear caused by a reduction of air pressure), usually seen with altitude changes such as flying and scuba diving.
Each year, more than half a million ear tube surgeries are performed on children, making it the most common childhood surgery performed with anesthesia. The average age of ear tube insertion is one to three years old. Inserting ear tubes may:
- reduce the risk of future ear infection,
- restore hearing loss caused by middle ear fluid,
- improve speech problems and balance prob-lems, and
- improve behavior and sleep problems caused by chronic ear infections.
How Are Ear Tubes Inserted?
Ear tubes are inserted through an outpatient surgical procedure called a myringotomy. A myringotomy refers to an incision (a hole) in the ear drum or tympanic membrane. This is most often done under a surgical microscope with a small scalpel (tiny knife), but it can also be accomplished with a laser. If an ear tube is not inserted, the hole would heal and close within a few days. To prevent this, an ear tube is placed in the hole to keep it open and allow air to reach the middle ear space (ventilation).
Ear Tube Surgery
A light general anesthetic (laughing gas) is administered for young children. Some older children and adults may be able to tolerate the procedure without anesthetic. A myringotomy is performed and the fluid behind the ear drum (in the middle ear space) is suctioned out. The ear tube is then placed in the hole. Ear drops may be administered after the ear tube is placed and may be necessary for a few days. The procedure usually lasts less than 15 minutes and patients awaken quickly. Sometimes the otolaryngologist will recommend removal of the adenoid tissue (lymph tissue located in the upper airway behind the nose) when ear tubes are placed. This is often considered when a repeat tube insertion is necessary. Current research indicates that removing adenoid tissue concurrent with placement of ear tubes can reduce the risk of recurrent ear infection and the need for repeat surgery.
What To Expect After Surgery
After surgery, the patient is monitored in the recovery room and will usually go home within an hour if no complications are present. Patients usually experience little or no postoperative pain but grogginess, irritability, and/or nausea from the anesthesia can occur temporarily. Hearing loss caused by the presence of middle ear fluid is immediately resolved by surgery. Sometimes children can hear so much better that they complain that normal sounds seem too loud. The otolaryngologist will provide specific postoperative instructions for each patient including when to seek immediate attention and follow-up appointments. He or she may also prescribe antibiotic ear drops for a few days. To avoid the possibility of bacteria entering the middle ear through the ventilation tube, physicians may recommend keeping ears dry by using ear plugs or other water-tight devices during bathing, swimming, and water activities. However, recent research suggests that protecting the ear may not be necessary, except when diving or engaging in water activities in unclean water such as lakes and rivers. Parents should consult with the treating physician about ear protection after surgery.
Myringotomy with insertion of ear tubes is an extremely common and safe procedure with minimal complications. When complications do occur, they may include:
- Perforation - This can happen when a tube comes out or a long-term tube is removed and the hole in the tympanic membrane (ear drum) does not close. The hole can be patched through a minor surgical procedure called a tympanoplasty or myringoplasty.
- Scarring - Any irritation of the ear drum (recurrent ear infections), including repeated in-sertion of ear tubes, can cause scarring called tympanosclerosis or myringosclerosis. In most cases, this causes no problems with hearing.
- Infection - Ear infections can still occur in the middle ear or around the ear tube. How-ever, these infections are usually less frequent, result in less hearing loss, and are easier to treat – often only with ear drops. Sometimes an oral antibiotic is still needed.
- Ear Tubes Come Out Too Early Or Stay In Too Long - If an ear tube expels from the ear drum too soon (which is unpredictable), fluid may return and repeat surgery may be needed. Ear tubes that remain too long may result in perforation or may require removal by the otolaryngologist.
Consultation with an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat surgeon) may be warranted if you or your child has experienced repeated or severe ear infections, ear infections that are not resolved with antibiotics, hearing loss due to fluid in the middle ear, barotrauma, or have an anatomic abnormality that inhibits drainage of the middle ear.
Insight into otitis media and treatment
- What is otitis media?
- Is it serious?
- What are the symptoms?
- and more...
What is otitis media?
Otitis media means inflammation of the middle ear. The inflammation occurs as a result of a middle ear infection. It can occur in one or both ears. Otitis media is the most frequent diagnosis recorded for children who visit physicians for illness. It is also the most common cause of hearing loss in children.
Although otitis media is most common in young children, it also affects adults occasionally. It occurs most commonly in the winter and early spring months.
Is it serious?
Yes, it is serious because of the severe earache and hearing loss it can create. Hearing loss, especially in children, may impair learning capacity and even delay speech development. However, if it is treated promptly and effectively, hearing can almost always be restored to normal.
Otitis media is also serious because the infection can spread to nearby structures in the head, especially the mastoid. Thus, it is very important to recognize the symptoms (see list) of otitis media and to get immediate attention from your doctor.
How does the ear work?
The outer ear collects sounds. The middle ear is a pea sized, air-filled cavity separated from the outer ear by the paper-thin eardrum. Attached to the eardrum are three tiny ear bones. When sound waves strike the eardrum, it vibrates and sets the bones in motion that transmit to the inner ear. The inner ear converts vibrations to electrical signals and sends these signals to the brain. It also helps maintain balance.
A healthy middle ear contains air at the same atmospheric pressure as outside of the ear, allowing free vibration. Air enters the middle ear through the narrow eustachian tube that connects the back of the nose to the ear. When you yawn and hear a pop, your eustachian tube has just sent a tiny air bubble to your middle ear to equalize the air pressure.
What causes otitis media?
Blockage of the eustachian tube during a cold, allergy, or upper respiratory infection and the presence of bacteria or viruses lead to the accumulation of fluid (a build-up of pus and mucus) behind the eardrum. This is the infection called acute otitis media. The build up of pressurized pus in the middle ear causes earache, swelling, and redness. Since the eardrum cannot vibrate properly, you or your child may have hearing problems.
Sometimes the eardrum ruptures, and pus drains out of the ear. But more commonly, the pus and mucus remain in the middle ear due to the swollen and inflamed eustachian tube. This is called middle ear effusion or serous otitis media. Often after the acute infection has passed, the effusion remains and becomes chronic, lasting for weeks, months, or even years. This condition makes one subject to frequent recurrences of the acute infection and may cause difficulty in hearing.
What will happen at the doctor's office?
During an examination, the doctor will use an instrument called an otoscope to assess the ear's condition. With it, the doctor will perform an examination to check for redness in the ear and/or fluid behind the eardrum. With the gentle use of air pressure, the doctor can also see if the eardrum moves. If the eardrum doesn't move and/or is red, an ear infection is probably present.
Two other tests may be performed for more information:
- An audiogram tests if hearing loss has occurred by presenting tones at various pitches.
- A tympanogram measures the air pressure in the middle ear to see how well the eustachian tube is working and how well the eardrum can move.
The importance of medication
The doctor may prescribe one or more medications. It is important that all the medication(s) be taken as directed and that any follow-up visits be kept. Often, antibiotics to fight the infection will make the earache go away rapidly, but the infection may need more time to clear up. So, be sure that the medication is taken for the full time your doctor has indicated. Other medications that your doctor may prescribe include an antihistamine (for allergies), a decongestant (especially with a cold), or both.
Sometimes the doctor may recommend a medication to reduce fever and/or pain. Analgesic ear drops can ease the pain of an earache. Call your doctor if you have any questions about you or your child's medication or if symptoms do not clear.
What other treatment may be necessary?
Most of the time, otitis media clears up with proper medication and home treatment. In many cases, however, further treatment may be recommended by your physician. An operation, called a myringotomy may be recommended. This involves a small surgical incision (opening) into the eardrum to promote drainage of fluid and to relieve pain. The incision heals within a few days with practically no scarring or injury to the eardrum. In fact, the surgical opening can heal so fast that it often closes before the infection and the fluid are gone. A ventilation tube can be placed in the incision, preventing fluid accumulation and thus improving hearing.
The surgeon selects a ventilation tube for your child that will remain in place for as long as required for the middle ear infection to improve and for the eustachian tube to return to normal. This may require several weeks or months. During this time, you must keep water out of the ears because it could start an infection. Otherwise, the tube causes no trouble, and you will probably notice a remarkable improvement in hearing and a decrease in the frequency of ear infections.
Otitis media may recur as a result of chronically infected adenoids and tonsils. If this becomes a problem, your doctor may recommend removal of one or both. This can be done at the same time as ventilation tubes are inserted.
Allergies may also require treatment.
So, remember . . .
Otitis media is generally not serious if it is promptly and properly treated. With the help of your physician, you and/or your child can feel and hear better very soon.
Be sure to follow the treatment plan, and see your physician until he/she tells you that the condition is fully cured.
What are the symptoms of otitis media?
In infants and toddlers look for:
- tpulling or scratching at the ear, especially if accompanied by other symptoms
- hearing problems
- crying, irritability
- ear drainage
In young children, adolescents, and adults look for:
- feeling of fullness or pressure
- hearing problems
- dizziness, loss of balance
- nausea, vomiting
- ear drainage
Remember, without proper treatment, damage from an ear infection can cause chronic or permanent hearing loss.
Insight into making air travel more comfortable
- Why do ears pop?
- How can air travel cause hearing problems?
- How to help babies unblock their ears?
- and more...
Ear problems are the most common medical complaint of airplane travelers, and while they are usually simple, minor annoyances, they occasionally result in temporary pain and hearing loss.
Why do ears pop?
Normally, swallowing causes a little click or popping sound in the ear. This occurs because a small bubble of air has entered the middle ear, up from the back of the nose. It passes through the Eustachian tube, a membrane-lined tube about the size of a pencil lead that connects the back of the nose with the middle ear. The air in the middle ear is constantly being absorbed by its membranous lining and re-supplied through the Eustachian tube. In this manner, air pressure on both sides of the eardrum stays about equal. If, and when, the air pressure is not equal the ear feels blocked.
The Eustachian tube can be blocked, or obstructed, for a variety of reasons. When that occurs, the middle ear pressure cannot be equalized. The air already there is absorbed and a vacuum occurs, sucking the eardrum inward and stretching it. Such an eardrum cannot vibrate naturally, so sounds are muffled or blocked, and the stretching can be painful. If the tube remains blocked, fluid (like blood serum) will seep into the area from the membranes in an attempt to overcome the vacuum. This is called "fluid in the ear," serous otitis or aero-otitis.
The most common cause for a blocked Eustachian tube is the common cold. Sinus infections and nasal allergies are also causes. A stuffy nose leads to stuffy ears because the swollen membranes block the opening of the Eustachian tube.
How Can Air Travel Cause Hearing Problems?
Air travel is sometimes associated with rapid changes in air pressure. To maintain comfort, the Eustachian tube must open frequently and wide enough to equalize the changes in pressure. This is especially true when the airplane is landing, going from low atmospheric pressure down closer to earth where the air pressure is higher.
Actually, any situation in which rapid altitude or pressure changes occur creates the problem. It may be experienced when riding in elevators or when diving to the bottom of a swimming pool. Deep sea divers, as well as pilots, are taught how to equalize their ear pressure. Anybody can learn the trick too.
How To Unblock Ears?
Swallowing activates the muscle that opens the Eustachian tube. You swallow more often when you chew gum or let mints melt in your mouth. These are good air travel practices, especially just before take-off and during descent. Yawning is even better. Avoid sleeping during descent, because you may not be swallowing often enough to keep up with the pressure changes. (The flight attendant will be happy to awaken you just before descent).
SIf yawning and swallowing are not effective, pinch the nostrils shut, take a mouthful of air, and direct the air into the back of the nose as if trying to blow the nose gently. The ears have been successfully unblocked when a pop is heard. This may have to be repeated several times during descent. Even after landing, continue the pressure equalizing techniques and the use of decongestants and nasal sprays. If the ears fail to open or if pain persists, seek the help of a physician who has experience in the care of ear disorders. The ear specialist may need to release the pressure or fluid with a small incision in the ear drum.
How to Help Babies Unlock their Ears?
Babies cannot intentionally pop their ears, but popping may occur if they are sucking on a bottle or pacifier. Feed your baby during the flight, and do not allow him or her to sleep during descent. Children are especially vulnerable to blockages because their Eustachian tubes are narrower than in adults.
Is the Use of Decongestants and Nose Sprays Recommended?
Many experienced air travelers use a decongestant pill or nasal spray an hour or so before descent. This will shrink the membranes and help the ears pop more easily. Travelers with allergy problems should take their medication at the beginning of the flight for the same reason. However, avoid making a habit of nasal sprays. After a few days, they may cause more congestion than relief.
Decongestant tablets and sprays can be purchased without a prescription. However, they should be avoided by people with heart disease, high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, thyroid disease, or excessive nervousness. Such people should consult their physicians before using these medicines. Pregnant women should likewise consult their physicians first.
Tips to Prevent Discomfort During Air Travel
- Consult with a surgeon on how soon after ear surgery it is safe to fly.
- Postpone an airplane trip if a cold, sinus infection, or an allergy attack is present.
- Patients in good health can take a decongestant pill or nose spray approximately an hour before descent to help the ears pop more easily.
- Avoid sleeping during descent.
- Chew gum or suck on a hard candy just before take-off and during descent.
- When inflating the ears, do not use force. The proper technique involves only pressure created by the cheek and throat muscles.
Insight into the proper care of the ears
- Why does the body produce earwax?
- What is the recommended method of ear cleaning?
- When should a doctor be consulted?
- and more…
Good intentions to keep ears clean may be risking the ability to hear. The ear is a delicate and intricate area, including the skin of the ear canal and the eardrum. Therefore, special care should be given to this part of the body. Start by discontinuing the use of cotton-tipped applicators and the habit of probing the ears.
Why does the body produce earwax?
Cerumen or earwax is healthy in normal amounts and serves as a self-cleaning agent with protective, lubricating, and antibacterial properties. The absence of earwax may result in dry, itchy ears. Most of the time the ear canals are self-cleaning; that is, there is a slow and orderly migration of earwax and skin cells from the eardrum to the ear opening. Old earwax is constantly being transported, assisted by chewing and jaw motion, from the ear canal to the ear opening where it usually dries, flakes, and falls out.
Earwax is not formed in the deep part of the ear canal near the eardrum, but in the outer one-third of the ear canal. So when a patient has wax blockage against the eardrum, it is often because he has been probing the ear with such things as cotton-tipped applicators, bobby pins, or twisted napkin corners. These objects only push the wax in deeper.
When should the ears be cleaned?
Under ideal circumstances, the ear canals should never have to be cleaned. However, that isn't always the case. The ears should be cleaned when enough earwax accumulates to cause symptoms or to prevent a needed assessment of the ear by your doctor. This condition is call cerumen impaction, and may cause one or more of the following symptoms:
- Earache, fullness in the ear, or a sensation the ear is plugged
- Partial hearing loss, which may be progressive
- Tinnitus, ringing, or noises in the ear
- Itching, odor, or discharge
What is the recommended method of ear cleaning?
To clean the ears, wash the external ear with a cloth, but do not insert anything into the ear canal.
Most cases of ear wax blockage respond to home treatments used to soften wax. Patients can try placing a few drops of mineral oil, baby oil, glycerin, or commercial drops in the ear. Detergent drops such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide may also aid in the removal of wax.
Irrigation or ear syringing is commonly used for cleaning and can be performed by a physician or at home using a commercially available irrigation kit. Common solutions used for syringing include water and saline, which should be warmed to body temperature to prevent dizziness. Ear syringing is most effective when water, saline, or wax dissolving drops are put in the ear canal 15 to 30 minutes before treatment. Caution is advised to avoid having your ears irrigated if you have diabetes, a perforated eardrum, tube in the eardrum, or a weakened immune system.
Manual removal of earwax is also effective. This is most often performed by an otolaryngologist using suction, special miniature instruments, and a microscope to magnify the ear canal. Manual removal is preferred if your ear canal is narrow, the eardrum has a perforation or tube, other methods have failed, or if you have diabetes or a weakened immune system.
Why shouldn't cotton swabs be used to clean earwax?
Wax blockage is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. This is often caused by attempts to clean the ear with cotton swabs. Most cleaning attempts merely push the wax deeper into the ear canal, causing a blockage.
The outer ear is the funnel-like part of the ear that can be seen on the side of the head, plus the ear canal (the hole which leads down to the eardrum). The ear canal is shaped somewhat like an hourglass—narrowing part way down. The skin of the outer part of the canal has special glands that produce earwax. This wax is supposed to trap dust and dirt particles to keep them from reaching the eardrum. Usually the wax accumulates a bit, dries out, and then comes tumbling out of the ear, carrying dirt and dust with it. Or it may slowly migrate to the outside where it can be wiped off.
Are ear candles an option for removing wax build up?
No, ear candles are not a safe option of wax removal as they may result in serious injury. Since users are instructed to insert the 10" to 15"-long, cone-shaped, hollow candles, typically made of wax-impregnated cloth, into the ear canal and light the exposed end, some of the most common injuries are burns, obstruction of the ear canal with wax of the candle, or perforation of the membrane that separates the ear canal and the middle ear.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) became concerned about the safety issues with ear candles after receiving reports of patient injury caused by the ear candling procedure. There are no controlled studies or other scientific evidence that support the safety and effectiveness of these devices for any of the purported claims or intended uses as contained in the labeling.
Based on the growing concern associated with the manufacture, marketing, and use of ear candles, the FDA has undertaken several successful regulatory actions, including product seizures and injunctions, since 1996. These actions were based, in part, upon violations of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act that pose an imminent danger to health.
When should a doctor be consulted?
If the home treatments discussed in this leaflet are not satisfactory or if wax has accumulated so much that it blocks the ear canal (and hearing), a physician may prescribe eardrops designed to soften wax, or he may wash or vacuum it out. Occasionally, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist) may need to remove the wax using microscopic visualization.
If there is a possibility of a hole (perforation or puncture) in the eardrum, consult a physician prior to trying any over-the-counter remedies. Putting eardrops or other products in the ear with the presence of an eardrum perforation may cause pain or an infection. Certainly, washing water through such a hole could start an infection.
What can I do to prevent excessive earwax?
There are no proven ways to prevent cerumen impaction, but not inserting cotton-tipped swabs or other objects in the ear canal is strongly advised. If you are prone to repeated wax impaction or use hearing aids, consider seeing your doctor every 6 to 12 months for a checkup and routine preventive cleaning.
Your child has an earache. After your first visit to a physician you may hear some of the following terms related to the diagnosis and treatment of this common childhood disorder.
Acute otitis media - the medical term for the common ear infection. Otitis refers to an ear inflammation, and media means middle. Acute otitis media is an infection of the middle ear, which is located behind the eardrum. This diagnosis includes fluid effusion trapped in the middle ear.
Adenoidectomy – removal of the adenoids, also called pharyngeal tonsils. Some believe their removal helps prevent ear infections.
Amoxicillin - a semi-synthetic penicillin antibiotic often used as the first-line medical treatment for acute otitis media or otitis media with effusion. A higher dosage may be recommended for a second treatment.
Analgesia – immediate pain relief. For an earache, it may be provided by acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and auralgan.
Antibiotic - a soluble substance derived from a mold or bacterium that inhibits the growth of other bacterial micro-organisms.
Antibiotic resistance – a condition where micro-organisms continue to multiply although exposed to antibiotic agents, often because the bacteria has become immune to the medication. Overuse or inappropriate use of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance.
Audiometer - an electronic device used in measuring hearing for pure tones of frequencies, generally varying from 125–8000 Hz, and speech (recorded in terms of decibels).
Azithromyacin – an antibiotic prescribed for acute otitis media due to Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Moraxella catarrhalis. Also known by its brand name, Zithromax®.
Bacteria – organisms responsible for about 70 percent of otitis media cases. The most common bacterial offenders are Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and Moraxella catarrhalis.
Chronic otitis media – when infection of the middle ear persists, leading to possible ongoing damage to the middle ear and eardrum.
Decibel – one tenth of a bel, the unit of measure expressing the relative intensity of a sound. The results of a hearing test are often expressed in decibels.
Effusion – a collection of fluid generally containing a bacterial culture.
First-line agent – The first treatment of antibiotics prescribed for an ear infection, often amoxicillin.
Myringotomy – an incision made into the ear drum.
Otitis media without effusion - an inflammation of the eardrum without fluid in the middle ear.
Otitis media with effusion - the presence of fluid in the middle ear without signs or symptoms of ear infection. It is sometimes called serous otitis media. This condition does not usually require antibiotic treatment.
Otitis media with perforation - a spontaneous rupture or tear in the eardrum as a result of infection. The hole in the ear drum usually repairs itself within several weeks.
OtoLAM™ – a myringotomy performed with computer-driven laser technology (rather than manual incision with a conventional scalpel).
Pneumatic otoscopy - a test administered for the middle ear consisting of an inspection of the ear with a device capable of varying air pressure against the eardrum. If the tympanic membrane moves during the test, normal middle ear function is indicated. A lack of movement indicates either increased impedance, as with fluid in the middle ear, or perforation of the tympanic membrane.
Recurrent otitis media – when the patient incurs three infections in three months, four in six months, or six in 12 months. This is often an indicator that a tympanostomy with tubes might be recommended.
Second line treatment – antibiotics prescribed when the first line of treatment fails to resolve symptoms after 48 hours.
Trimethoprim Sulfamethoxazole – an alternative first line treatment for children allergic to amoxicillin.
Tympanostomy tubes – small tubes inserted in the eardrum to allow drainage of infection.
Do not hesitate to seek clarification from your physician if he or she uses a term that you do not fully understand.
What is AIED?
Autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED) is an inflammatory condition of the inner ear. It occurs when the body's immune system attacks cells in the inner ear that are mistaken for a virus or bacteria. AIED is a rare disease occurring in less than one percent of the 28 million Americans with a hearing loss.
How Does the Healthy Ear Work?
The ear has three main parts: the outer, middle and inner ear. The outer ear (the part you can see) opens into the ear canal. The eardrum separates the ear canal from the middle ear. Small bones in the middle ear help transfer sound to the inner ear. The inner ear contains the auditory (hearing)nerve, which leads to the brain.
Any source of sound sends vibrations or sound waves into the air. These funnel through the ear opening, down the ear, canal, and strike your eardrum, causing it to vibrate. The vibrations are passed to the small bones of the middle ear, which transmit them to the hearing nerve in the inner ear. Here, the vibrations become nerve impulses and go directly to the brain, which interprets the impulses as sound (music, voice, a car horn, etc.)
Symptoms of AIED
The symptoms of AIED are sudden hearing loss in one ear progressing rapidly to the second ear. The hearing loss can progress over weeks or months. Patients may feel fullness in the ear and experience vertigo. In addition, a ringing, hissing, or roaring sound in the ear may be experienced. Diagnosis of AIED is difficult and is often mistaken for otitis media until the patient develops a loss in the second ear. One diagnostic test that is promising is the Western blot immunoassay.
Treatment for AIED
Most patients with AIED respond to the initial treatment of steroids, prednisone, and methotrexate, a chemotherapy agent. Some patients may benefit from the use of hearing aids. If patients are unresponsive to drug therapy and hearing loss persists, a cochlear implant maybe considered.
History of AIED
Until recently it was thought that the inner ear could not be attacked by the immune system. Studies have shown that the perisacular tissue surrounding the endolymphatic sac contains the necessary components for an immunological reaction. The inner ear is also capable of producing an autoimmune response to sensitized cells that can enter the cochlea through the circulatory system.
A multi-institutional clinical study, Otolaryngology Clinical Trial Cooperative Group (OCTCG) co-sponsored by the NIH and the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, is being conducted to measure the benefits and risks of treating AIED with two different immunosuppressive drugs: prednisone and methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug.
Many medical conditions, such as those listed below, can affect your hearing health. Treatment of these and other hearing losses can often lead to improved or restored hearing. If left undiagnosed and untreated, some conditions can lead to irreversible hearing impairment or deafness. If you suspect that you or your loved one has a problem with their hearing, ensure optimal hearing healthcare by seeking a medical diagnosis from a physician.
The most common cause of hearing loss in children is otitis media, the medical term for a middle ear infection or inflammation of the middle ear. This condition can occur in one or both ears and primarily affects children due to the shape of the young Eustachian tube (and is the most frequent diagnosis for children visiting a physician). When left undiagnosed and untreated, otitis media can lead to infection of the mastoid bone behind the ear, a ruptured ear drum, and hearing loss. If treated appropriately, hearing loss related to otitis media can be alleviated.
Tinnitus is the medical name indicating "ringing in the ears," which includes noises ranging from loud roaring to clicking, humming, or buzzing. Most tinnitus comes from damage to the microscopic endings of the hearing nerve in the inner ear. The health of these nerve endings is important for acute hearing, and injury to them brings on hearing loss and often tinnitus. Hearing nerve impairment and tinnitus can also be a natural accompaniment of advancing age. Exposure to loud noise is probably the leading cause of tinnitus damage to hearing in younger people. Medical treatments and assistive hearing devices are often helpful to those with this condition.
An infection of the outer ear structures caused when water gets trapped in the ear canal leading to a collection of trapped bacteria is known as swimmer's ear or otitis externa. In this warm, moist environment, bacteria multiply causing irritation and infection of the ear canal. Although it typically occurs in swimmers, bathing or showering can also contribute to this common infection. In severe cases, the ear canal may swell shut leading to temporary hearing loss and making administration of medications difficult.
Earwax (also known as cerumen) is produced by special glands in the outer part of the ear canal and is designed to trap dust and dirt particles keeping them from reaching the eardrum. Usually the wax accumulates, dries, and then falls out of the ear on its own or is wiped away. One of the most common and easily treatable causes of hearing loss is accumulated earwax. Using cotton swabs or other small objects to remove earwax is not recommended as it pushes the earwax deeper into the ear, increasing buildup and affecting hearing. Excessive earwax can be a chronic condition best treated by a physician.
Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease
Autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED) is an inflammatory condition of the inner ear. It occurs when the body's immune system attacks cells in the inner ear that are mistaken for a virus or bacteria. Prompt medical diagnosis is essential to ensure the most favorable prognosis. Therefore, recognizing the symptoms of AIED is important: sudden hearing loss in one ear progressing rapidly to the second and continued loss of hearing over weeks or months, a feeling of ear fullness, vertigo, and tinnitus. Treatments primarily include medications but hearing aids and cochlear implants are helpful to some.
A cholesteatoma is a skin growth that occurs in the middle ear behind the eardrum. This condition usually results from poor eustachian tube function concurrent with middle ear infection (otitis media), but can also be present at birth. The condition is treatable, but can only be diagnosed by medical examination. Over time, untreated cholesteatoma can lead to bone erosion and spread of the ear infection to localized areas such as the inner ear and brain. If untreated, deafness, brain abscess, meningitis, and death can occur.
A perforated eardrum is a hole or rupture in the eardrum, a thin membrane that separates the ear canal and the middle ear. A perforated eardrum is often accompanied by decreased hearing and occasional discharge with possible pain. The amount of hearing loss experienced depends on the degree and location of perforation. Sometimes a perforated eardrum will heal spontaneously, other times surgery to repair the hole is necessary. Serious problems can occur if water or bacteria enter the middle ear through the hole. A physician can advise you on protection of the ear from water and bacteria until the hole is repaired.
I Don't Hear Well. What Should I Do? What Should I Expect?
Because some hearing problems can be medically corrected, first visit a physician who can refer you to an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist ). If you have ear pain, drainage, excess earwax, hearing loss in only one ear, sudden or rapidly progressive hearing loss, or dizziness, it is especially important that you see an otolaryngologist. Then, get a hearing assessment from an audiologist (a nonphysician health care professional). A screening test from a hearing aid dealer may not be adequate. Many otolaryngologists have an audiologist associate in their office who will assess your ability to hear pure tone sounds and to understand words. The results of these tests will show the degree of hearing loss and whether it is conductive or sensorineural and may give other medical information about your ears and your health.
Conductive Hearing Loss
A hearing loss is conductive when there is a problem with the ear canal, the eardrum and/or the three bones connected to the eardrum. Common reasons for this type of hearing loss are a plug of excess wax in the ear canal or fluid behind the eardrum. Medical treatment or surgery may be available for these and more complex forms of conductive hearing loss.
Sensorinural Hearing Loss
A hearing loss is sensorineural when it results from damage to the inner ear (cochlea) or auditory nerve, often as a result of the aging process and/or noise exposure. Sounds may be unclear and/or too soft. Sensitivity to loud sounds may occur. Medical or surgical intervention cannot correct most sensorineural hearing losses. However, hearing aids may help you reclaim some sounds that you are missing as a result of nerve deafness.
Where Do I Purchase Hearing Aids?
Because federal regulation prohibits any hearing aid sale unless the buyer has first received a medical evaluation from a physician, you will need to see your physician before you purchase a hearing aid(s). However, the regulation says that if you