Are your ears causing you discomfort? You may have an ear infection or an ear problem that is a symptom of another illness or even a serious disease. Either way, it can negatively affect your quality of life.
Many conditions are unrelated to our ears but can irritate our ears. Don’t take your ear problem lightly. It is essential to correctly diagnose the ear problem right away. Otherwise, it can lead to severe complications.
So, let’s look at 10 common conditions that affect the ears. Being aware of them can help you get appropriate treatment.
1. Cold and Sinus Infections
Although cold and sinus infections have many similar symptoms, they are not the same.
A cold is a mild, upper respiratory tract infection of the throat, nose, and sinuses. Viruses belonging to the rhinovirus group are mainly responsible for this, but it can be caused by other viruses, too. It is usually harmless.
Symptoms of a cold include a headache, runny or blocked nose, sneezing, cough, high fever, itchy eyes, sore throat, body aches, and so on. If your cold becomes severe, ear-related symptoms commonly seen are ear infections, blocked ears, and ear pain. At times, a cold can block the sinuses, leading to a sinus infection.
A sinus infection or sinusitis is the irritation and swelling of the sinuses and nasal cavities. A virus typically causes the illness, but at times, bacteria or even a fungus can be the culprit. Sometimes allergies, nasal polyps (noncancerous growths in the nasal lining) or even tooth infections can affect your sinuses. Sinus complications can give rise to ear infections, earaches or even tinnitus.
The pressure that builds up due to sinus congestion can affect the pressure in your ears. You may develop an ear infection if there is swelling or a blockage in the part of the middle ear called the eustachian tube. This blockage causes the buildup of fluid within it.
Tinnitus is when you have a ringing sound in your ears. The ringing may also be in the form of a roaring, clicking, buzzing or hissing sound. It may affect either one or both ears. It can be high- or low-pitched, soft or loud (1).
By treating the congestion, you can get relief from these symptoms. Using an inhaler or a nasal saline spray several times a day will ease your symptoms quickly.
2. Throat Infections
A throat infection can be challenging at times to get rid off. Some bacteria or a virus usually causes it. It can also be the result of an allergy, irritants or pollution, as well as some other internal ailment. Ear infections and ear pain are typical complications that occur when a throat infection advances to a more severe state (2).
Other common signs of a throat infection include inflamed tonsils, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, throat pain, and inflammation.
3. Ménière’s Disease
Ménière’s disease is an abnormality of the inner ear. Balancing and hearing are vital functions of your inner ear. The disease generally affects only one ear. Twelve out of every 1,000 people are affected by the disease worldwide. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders estimates that 0.2 percent of Americans are affected by the disease.
It typically affects people between the ages of 40 and 60. Although it is a chronic disease, treatments and lifestyle changes can help ease the symptoms (3).
The symptoms may subside for a few years and reappear in sudden spells or bursts. Symptoms usually seen are vertigo (dizziness), loss of hearing in the affected ear, tinnitus, loss of balance, nausea, headaches, a sense of fullness in the affected ear (aural fullness) and pain.
The definitive cause of Ménière’s disease is unknown. Scientists think that it may be linked to the mixing of the fluid within the ear or the level of fluid in the ear (4).
If you suffer from the disease, medications can help tackle the dizziness. Also, limiting your salt intake and using hearing aids can help manage the symptoms.
4. Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is characterized by swelling and irritation of the gastrointestinal tract. It is a type of chronic inflammatory bowel disease that can affect any part of the body’s digestive system, from the mouth to the anus. The small intestine is most commonly affected.
Symptoms commonly seen in Crohn’s disease are frequent or recurring diarrhea, rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss, abdominal cramps, fever, fatigue and low energy, and reduced appetite. Crohn’s patients may also suffer from severe deafness, according to a 2013 study published in Rheumatology (5). A previous study published in “The American Journal of Gastroenterology” in 1998 reported a hearing loss in both ears without any indications of intestinal disease in a patient with Crohn’s disease (6).
The exact reason for Crohn’s disease is not known. However, many factors like heredity, the effect of an over-reactive immune system on your gastrointestinal tract, and environmental factors (bacteria, viruses or other unknown factors contribute to this condition (7).
Mumps is a contagious viral disease caused by the mumps virus, also known as paramyxovirus (8). It affects the parotid gland, which is the primary salivary gland located in front of and below your ears.
Common symptoms include swollen and inflamed salivary glands under one or both ears (parotitis), fever, headaches, tiredness, loss of appetite, and muscle aches.
Loss of hearing can also occur with mumps, and in rare cases, this hearing loss can be permanent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (9). This was more common before scientists developed the mumps vaccine. So care must be taken to do hearing tests after mumps infection. Mumps, and in turn the risk of hearing loss, can easily be prevented by getting an MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine (10).
Measles, or rubeola, is a serious viral disease caused by a virus in the paramyxovirus family. The virus affects the respiratory system and is highly contagious. It spreads mainly through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs. You can also catch the infection through contact with infected mucus and saliva (11).
Measles is the leading cause of death among children worldwide. In 2016, the World Health Organization reported that there were 89,780 measles deaths globally (12).
It can easily be averted by getting a safe and effective measles vaccine. This vaccine is a must for children.
The symptoms of measles start with a high fever, runny nose, cough, red and watery eyes, and small white spots inside cheeks. Other symptoms include muscle aches, sore throat and the classic red, itchy ‘measles rash’ that usually develops on the head and gradually appears on other parts of the body.
Researchers have shown that there is an association between the measles virus and the ear condition known as otosclerosis. Otosclerosis is the abnormal bone remodeling – a lifelong process in which old bone tissue is absorbed and new bone tissue is formed – in your inner ear. The bone gets stuck and is unable to vibrate. This modification affects the capacity of sound waves to travel from your middle ear to your inner ear and thereby your hearing is affected.
The Journal for Oto-Rhino-Laryngology, Head and Neck Surgery reported in a 2008 study that the measles virus could be an activating factor for the development of otosclerosis (13). Hearing loss is a common complication of the measles infection in areas in which the measles vaccination is rarely used (14).