It’s easy to take the sound of your family’s laughter, your cat’s purr, wind in the trees and rain on the roof for granted. But have you ever wondered what it is about your ears that allow hearing to happen?

Your ear has three main parts that are all essential for healthy hearing. Sound waves enter through your outer ear, travel to your middle ear and cause your eardrum to vibrate. Three tiny middle ear bones called ossicles transmit the vibrations to your cochlea, the spiral-shaped, auditory portion of your inner ear. The inner ear converts the motion into electrical signals that are communicated to thousands of nerve cells and passed along to your brain, which recognizes them as sounds. The inner ear also controls your sense of balance and equilibrium.

A variety of conditions can affect your hearing or balance, so let’s take a look at some of the most common.

Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infection)

Otitis media, or a middle ear infection, is the most common cause of illness and hearing loss in infants and young children. “Three out of four children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday,” according to the National Institutes of Health. This inflammation occurs in one or both ears when Eustachian tubes inside the ears become clogged with mucus. Your child may tell you their ear hurts or cry more than usual. You may notice them pulling at their ears or having difficulty hearing, sleeping or balancing.

Your ENT provider will look inside the ear with an otoscope to diagnose the infection and recommend pain relievers or antibiotics in severe cases. Although most ear infections go away on their own, some children require surgery to place small tubes inside their ears to relieve pressure and restore hearing. It’s important to seek medical help, because untreated otitis media can lead to a ruptured eardrum.

Although most ear infections go away on their own, some children require surgery to place small tubes inside their ears to relieve pressure and restore hearing.

Perforated Eardrum

Perforated eardrum is a rupture in the thin membrane that separates the ear canal and the middle ear. If caused by an ear infection, it’s the build up of pressure pushing against the eardrum that causes the rupture. But because children are notorious for sticking objects in their ears, another common cause is poking the eardrum with a bobby pin, pen, toy or cotton-tipped swab.

A perforated eardrum is usually painful and accompanied by hearing loss and a pussy discharge. The eardrum may heal spontaneously within a few months, but sometimes outpatient surgery is required to repair the hole. Water and bacteria must be kept from entering the middle ear through the hole until it’s repaired, and your ENT specialist may prescribe an antibiotic to prevent an infection. Avoid ruptured eardrums by not inserting objects into your ear and treat ear infections promptly.

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a ringing, roaring, clicking, humming or buzzing in one or both ears that is usually caused by damage to the hearing nerve in your ear. Although a natural part of aging, tinnitus is usually the result of exposure to loud noise when seen in younger people. Millions of Americans have tinnitus, and severe cases can interfere with sleeping and working. Your ENT physician may recommend medications, a hearing aid or a sound-masking device to help you cope with the noise.

Peripheral Vertigo

Peripheral vertigo, the most common type, is caused by a problem in the balance-controlling inner ear. It feels as if your surroundings are spinning, and there is sometimes nausea and vomiting.

Meniere’s disease is one of the most common causes of peripheral vertigo, tinnitus and hearing loss. This inner ear disorder usually affects just one ear, and although the exact cause is not yet known, researchers believe it involves the fluids in the inner ear canals. Dizziness attacks come on suddenly and range in frequency from once in a while to several in a row. Some attacks bring dizziness that is severe enough to cause a fall.

There is no cure for Meniere’s disease, but limiting stress, salt, caffeine and alcohol helps some people. Your ENT specialist may prescribe medications to control dizziness or suggest anti-inflammatory drugs or a device that fits into the outer ear and delivers air pulses to the middle ear. Severe cases may require surgery.

Peripheral vertigo, the most common type, is caused by a problem in the balance-controlling inner ear. It feels as if your surroundings are spinning, and there is sometimes nausea and vomiting.

Some ear conditions can lead to irreversible hearing impairment or deafness without prompt treatment. If you suspect that you or your loved one has a hearing problem, seek a medical diagnosis from an ENT specialist. Revere Health Ear, Nose and Throat providers have received extensive training in a wide range of ear conditions including hearing, balance, sinus and ear infections and dizziness. We provide compassionate care for children and adults in eight Utah locations.


Revere Health Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) offers specialized, comprehensive healthcare for patients with a variety of disorders of the head and neck.

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