Symptoms of infections of the middle ear depend upon whether the condition is active or inactive, whether or not there is involvement of the mastoid bone and whether or not there is a hole in the eardrum. There may be discharge, hearing impairment, tinnitus, dizziness, pain, or rarely weakness of the face.
Function of the Normal Ear
The ear is divided into three parts: the external ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Each part performs an important function in the process of hearing. Sound waves pass through the ear canal of the external ear and vibrate the eardrum, which separates the external ear from the middle ear. The three small bones in the middle ear act to transmit energy of the sound vibrations to the fluids of the inner ear. Vibrations in this fluid stimulate delicate nerve fibers. The auditory nerve then transmits impulses to the brain where they are interpreted as understandable sounds.
Types of Hearing Impairment
The external ear and the middle ear conduct sound; the inner ear receives it. If there is some difficulty in the external or middle ear, a conductive loss occurs. If trouble lies in the inner ear, a sensorineural or nerve hearing loss is the result. When there is difficulty in both the middle and inner ear, a combination of both sensorineural loss and conductive loss, or mixed hearing loss, occurs.
The Diseased Middle Ear
Any disease affecting the eardrum or the three small bones may cause a conductive hearing loss. Conductive losses interfere with the transmission of sound to the inner ear. Such a hearing impairment may be due to a perforation or hole in the eardrum, partial or total destruction of the middle ear bones, or scar tissue. When an acute infection develops in the middle ear, the eardrum may rupture, resulting in a perforation.
Care of the Ear
If a perforation is present, you should not allow water to get into the ear canal. This may be avoided by wearing an earplug while showering or swimming.
It is important to seek medical help if you think you have any type of middle ear problem. A primary care provider or ear, nose, and throat specialist can determine the cause of the middle ear problems and provide the right treatment options. Treatments range from the application of antibiotics to surgical options.