Ear infections – Ear infections can affect children and adults of any age. They are usually described according to which part of the ear is infected. Ear canal infections (AKA otitis externa or swimmer’s ear) involve the external auditory canal between the ear opening and ear drum, and are usually treated with antibiotic ear drops. Middle ear infections involve the middle ear space, which is beyond the ear drum. These infections often are treated with oral antibiotics, but sometimes ear drops may be prescribed if the ear drum is ruptured.
Hearing loss – Hearing is a complex process which relies on proper function of many parts of the ear. The ear has three separate regions: the outer ear or pinna (the visible portion of the ear), the middle ear (the air-filled space between the ear drum and the inner ear), and the inner ear (the hearing portion of which is the cochlea, located within the skull bones).
Problems with any part of the ear have the potential to cause hearing loss. Examples of conditions which can cause hearing loss include a hole in the ear drum, fluid in the middle ear, or problems with the inner ear related to noise exposure or aging. If you or your doctor are concerned about hearing loss, your doctor will examine your ears and order a hearing test (audiogram).
Ringing in the Ear (Tinnitus) – Tinnitus is a sensation of noise in the ears or head in the absence of any external source. It is commonly perceived as a high-pitched whining or hissing, but may vary in pitch and sometimes sound like a humming, chirping or clicking noise. One of the most common causes of tinnitus is hearing loss, but there are many other potential causes. A full head and neck examination and hearing test (audiogram) are important parts of an evaluation for tinnitus.
Eustachian tube dysfunction – The Eustachian tubes (pronounced “you-station”) are small passages within the head that connect the middle ear space to the back of the nose. Their purpose is to allow air to flow in and out of the middle ear space. If they are not functioning properly, negative pressure can build up in the middle ear space and allow fluid to accumulate, sometimes causing a drop in the hearing. Pressure changes across the ear drum can also result in a sensation of fullness or pressure in the ear.
Perforated ear drum – A hole in the ear drum (perforation) can be caused by trauma to the ear or a severe ear infection. Drainage from the ear or hearing changes can sometimes result.
Dizziness – Dizziness is a common problem evaluated by ear, nose and throat doctors. People may feel light headed, imbalanced or have vertigo (an abnormal sensation of movement). Problems with the brain or brainstem, cardiovascular system, vision, muscles and joints, sensory nerves, or inner ears are some of the possible causes of dizziness. A typical evaluation involves a history and physical exam by the doctor and a hearing test (audiogram). Additional testing may include MRI and vestibular testing.
Common Surgical Procedures
Tympanostomy Tubes (AKA: ear tubes, PE tubes, pressure equalization tubes) – Ear tubes are placed in both children and adults for a variety of reasons. The most common reasons for placement of ear tubes are Eustachian tube dysfunction and recurrent ear infections. For adults, the procedure usually involves local anesthesia, and children usually receive a general anesthesia. The surgeon makes a small slit or hole in the ear drum and places a small plastic or metal tube within the ear drum. This tube stays in place for an average of 6-8 months, but some types are designed to come out sooner or stay in longer. The purpose of the tube is to allow air to freely flow into the middle ear space. Patients receiving ear tubes need to be followed at regular intervals while the tubes are in place. If you or your child need ear tubes, your surgeon will discuss the procedure with you in detail.
Tympanoplasty – Tympanoplasty is a surgical procedure to rebuild the ear drum (tympanic membrane). There are different reasons why this may be recommended, and the techniques used may vary depending on the indications for the procedure. Your surgeon will explain the process in detail if you are a candidate.