- What causes an ear infection (otitis media)?
- What causes swimmer’s ear?
- What does the doctor mean when he/she says my child would benefit from “tubes?”
- Why do I have ear wax?
- How do I remove ear wax?
- What’s wrong with Q-tips?
- What is tinnitus (ringing or roaring in the ears)?
- What might cause tinnitus?
An ear infection is caused by improper drainage of fluid that collects behind the ear drum during a cold, allergy, or upper respiratory infection and the presence of bacteria or viruses. The build up of pressurized pus in the middle ear causes an earache, swelling, and redness. Since the eardrum cannot vibrate properly, the individual may experience hearing problems.
Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is typically a bacterial infection of the ear canal; this differs from otitis media which involves fluid behind the eardrum. Otitis externa is most commonly caused by water getting trapped in the ear canal. It also follows injury to the skin of the ear canal caused by aggressive “cleaning” with Q-tips, bobby pins, match sticks and other devices.
Most of the time, otitis media clears up with proper medication. When it doesn’t, further treatment may be recommended by your physician. This treatment may be the surgical placement of a ventilation tube in the eardrum. This “tube” allows fluid to drain from behind the eardrum preventing fluid accumulation. The individual will probably notice a remarkable improvement in hearing and a decrease in the frequency of ear infections.
Ear wax (cerumen) is normal in healthy ears. The purpose of cerumen is to moisturize and protect the skin of the ear canal and to trap dust and particles before they reach the ear drum. Cerumen is formed in the outer part of the ear canal. Normally, wax makes its way to the outer opening of the ear canal, flakes up, and falls out.
In most cases, swabbing the opening of the ear canal with the corner of a twisted damp washcloth will remove excessive ear wax. Avoid too much moisture or going too deep since prolonged moisture in the ear canal can lead to an infection. Probing with bobby pins, match sticks, Q-tips, etc. is strongly discouraged.
The problem with Q-tips is that they pack the ear wax from the outer ear canal deep into the ear canal until it jams against the ear drum, much like a cannon being packed with black powder and a tamping rod. Cerumen lodged against the ear drum is much more difficult and painful to get out and can cause a temporary hearing loss.
Tinnitus is very common and can be annoying and distracting. Almost 37 million Americans have tinnitus in their ear or ears. It may come and go or might be a constant bother. It might be soft or loud, low pitched (roaring), or high-pitched (ringing) kind of sound. More than 7 million people are so badly afflicted that they can’t lead normal lives.
There are various causes including a plug of wax, allergy, ear infection, circulatory problems, certain medications, and prolonged exposure to loud noise.