Chronic Diseases of the Ear

Outer Ear

Otitis Externa

Otitis externa is an infection of the skin in the ear canal.  The skin may become dry and scaly, or red and swollen.  Otitis externa can cause a conductive hearing loss as well as pain or itchiness.

Exostosis (Swimmer’s Ear or Surfer’s Ear)

An Exostosis is a benign growth on the wall of the ear canal.  This condition is called “Swimmer’s Ear or Surfer’s Ear” because it is common in people who go swimming, surfing or scuba diving a lot in cold water.  Exostosis is not generally associated with a hearing loss.  It requires attention as it has recurrent infections and muffled hearing.

Middle ear

 Otitis Media

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear and there are three types: acute, chronic and serous otitis media.

  • Acute otitis media is an infection in the middle ear. Acute otitis media can affect one or both ears and is associated with conductive hearing loss, ear pain and fever.
  • Chronic otitis media is a long-standing infection in the middle ear. Chronic otitis media can be associated with an acute ear infection that hasn’t completely resolved, a cholesteatoma or by a perforation of the ear drum that has not healed. Chronic otitis media is associated with a conductive hearing loss.
  • Serous Otitis Media is also referred to as “glue ear” because of the thick and viscous fluid that builds up in the middle ear space. This is the most common cause of hearing loss in children and is a major source of ear disease in Indigenous children.  It occurs when the middle ear is not ventilating properly because the Eustachian Tube is not working properly.  This can be associated with infection, allergy or enlarged adenoids or tonsils.   Serous otitis media can cause a conductive hearing loss.

Tympanosclerosis

Tympanosclerosis refers to plaque or scarring that can develop in the middle ear space as a result of chronic otitis media.  The plaque can grow on the middle ear bones (ossicles), on the walls of the middle ear space or on the eardrum.  Tympanosclerosis can cause a conductive hearing loss.

Cholesteatoma

A cholesteatoma is a cyst that can develop in the middle ear after recurring ear infections.  As it grows, the cyst can damage the middle ear bones and in more serious cases can erode through the mastoid bone to the lining of the brain.  A cholesteatoma can cause a conductive hearing loss.

Otosclerosis

Otosclerosis is a disease where bone grows on the middle ear bone called the stirrup (stapes) and restricts its movement.  It is more common in women and can be exacerbated by pregnancy.  Otosclerosis causes a progressive hearing loss which usually starts in the mid 30’s.  The hearing loss from otosclerosis can be conductive, mixed or sensorineural depending on where the bone growth occurs.

Inner Ear

Meniere’s disease

Meniere’s disease is a disorder that affects the inner ear.  Meniere’s disease is associated with attacks of vertigo (a sensation of spinning) and/or tinnitus, fullness in the ear and hearing loss.  A sensorineural hearing loss is associated with Meniere’s disease and in most cases only one ear is affected.  Medical treatments are available that can help a person manage the symptoms and support groups exist for people who have this condition.

Auditory Nerve

Acoustic neuroma

An acoustic neuroma is a benign tumour on the vestibular nerve.  As the tumour grows, it can press on the auditory nerve which causes hearing loss, and on other brain structures which cause life-threatening complications.  Symptoms are a hearing loss and facial numbness on the affected side and loss of balance.