Inner Ear Disorders
The ears are amazing organs that can receive and decipher a wide range of sound. There are basically three sections to the ear: outer, middle, and inner. They all work together to create hearing. Sound waves enter through the outer ear. When they reach the middle ear, they cause the eardrum to vibrate. Those vibrations are further transmitted through three tiny bones in your middle ear to your inner ear. The inner then is responsible for the nerve impulses that are sent to your brain, which decodes them as the various sounds. In addition to its auditory role, the inner ear also controls balance.
Inner Ear Conditions
Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease (AIED)
This is an inflammatory condition of the inner ear that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks cells in the inner ear, mistaking them for virus or bacteria. Prompt diagnosis and treatment from the ENT specialists at Coastal is important for long-term success. Over half of AIED patients have a combination of hearing loss and dizziness. Fortunately, the condition is rare, accounting for less than 1% of hearing loss or dizziness cases.
This disorder of the inner ear can cause severe dizziness, a roaring sound in your ears called tinnitus, hearing loss that comes and goes, and a feeling of ear pressure and pain. Usually affecting only one ear, Meniere’s is a common cause of hearing loss.
A typical attack of Meniere’s can come on suddenly. It is preceded by fullness in one ear and hearing fluctuations. A Meniere’s episode generally involves severe vertigo (a spinning sensation), imbalance, nausea, and vomiting. Attacks last from two to four hours. Sufferers are usually over age 40. It starts in one ear, but usually extends into the other ear over time. Progressive hearing loss occurs.
The causes of Meniere’s are still not fully understood. It is believed that it is triggered by fluctuating pressure of the fluid within the inner ear. There is no cure for Meniere’s, but the condition can be managed to help control symptoms with actions such as limiting salt in the diet and taking water pills.
The vestibular system includes the area of the inner ear and brain that controls balance and eye movement. If disease or injury damages these areas, vestibular disorders can be the result. There are a variety of these, the most common being benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), labyrinthitis, Meniere’s, secondary endolymphatic hydrops, and perilymph fistula.
Roughly 5% of the population incurs head injuries. It is thought that after a head injury, drainage pathways can become damaged, allowing fluid to build up. Issues with fluid movement in the inner ear are common determinants of dizziness and vertigo, even causing patients to fall without any warning.
The most common cause of BPPV in those under 50 is head injury. Post-concussion syndrome is thought to often involve BPPV. In older people, the most common cause is degeneration of the vestibular system of the inner ear. Symptoms tend to wax and wane. Physical exercise and maneuvers can be effective treatment. In severe cases, surgery can come into play.
Tinnitus is usually described as a ringing in the ears. It can also sound like roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing. In a specific type known as pulsatile tinnitus, the person can hear something akin to their heartbeat in their ears. Tinnitus is common, with 36 million Americans having it all the time and over half of the population having it intermittently. For seven million Americans, tinnitus is so bad they say they cannot lead a normal life.
Tinnitus is usually static noise in the person’s auditory system that is filling in for the loss of sound from the external environment. In other words, it usually comes from hearing damage, particularly to the cochlea in the inner ear. Tinnitus can be temporary, such as after attending a concert with loud rock music, but even in those cases there is usually some damage to the delicate hair cells in the inner ear.
These are some of the causes of tinnitus:
- Hearing loss due to aging
- Exposure to loud noise
- Ear and sinus infections
- Heart and blood vessel problems
- Meniere’s Disease
- Brain tumors
- Hormonal changes in women
- Thyroid problems
- Taking certain medications
The best way to treat tinnitus is to distract the person from it. Normally, people experience tinnitus the most when in a quiet environment. Otherwise, medications have shown some success in treating tinnitus, but the jury is still out on this avenue.
A Complicated Organ Merits Trained Expertise
Due to the complicated makeup of the inner ear, there are a large number of conditions that can affect both the hearing and the balance of the sufferer. Many of these conditions can be misdiagnosed unless the doctors are ENT experts. The doctors at Coastal ENT are specialists and can diagnose the problems occurring with your inner ear and put you on the path to the proper treatment.