Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Anatomy of the Ear and Common Ear Disorders

Hearing has always been an essential part of communication – learning to talk is based on the ability to imitate sounds and mimic words used to speak. Without the ability to hear, communication can be difficult. The study of the ear, also known as otology, is the branch of medicine that examines the anatomy of the ear, its physiology, as well as diseases and disorders associated with it.

The ear is divided into 3 different sections, each playing an integral role in the hearing process: The external ear, middle ear, and inner ear.

Anatomy of the Ear

The external ear is the visible portion of the ear and consists of the pinna (or auricle) and the auditory canal. These parts of the ear are responsible for funnelling sound waves and secreting earwax. The tympanic membrane, also known as the eardrum, separates the external ear from the middle ear. A common disorder of the inner ear is impacted cerumen (earwax). This occurs when earwax has hardened and obstructs the auditory canal. Signs and symptoms of this condition include ear ache, blocked or muffled hearing, and a sensation of a plugged ear. Dr. Ali Ghahary, a Vancouver physician practicing at Brentwood Medical Clinic, treats this condition by flushing earwax with a syringe. If let untreated, it can lead to permanent hearing loss or tinnitus. 

The middle ear is a small cavity located in the temporal bone of your skull. It contains three bones that are commonly described by their shapes. These are the malleus, which is shaped like a hammer, the incus, which is shaped like an anvil, and the stirrup-shaped stapes. The middle ear is responsible for equalizing air pressure, sound vibration, and protection from damage (i.e. from loud noise.) Otitis media, inflammation of the ear, is a common disorder associated to the middle ear. It is caused by bacterial or viral infections. While it can affect individuals of all ages, it tends to occur in children more than adults. A child suffering from this condition may tug or pull on the affected ear, become unusually irritable, develop a fever and have difficulty sleeping. If infection is present, antibiotics will be prescribed. Decongestants may also be recommended to reduce swelling along with pain relievers. For more information on ear infections in children, click here.

The inner ear is responsible for converting sound pressure impulses to the brain via the auditory nerve. The most common disorder associated with the middle ear is tinnitus, which is characterized by ringing in one or both ears. There are various causes of tinnitus – from hearing loss, allergies, certain medications and even tumours. The ringing caused by tinnitus can be so severe that it can affect the ability to sleep and work. While there is no cure for this condition, many patients say they have found relief with hearing aids.

For persisting ear problems, Dr. Ali Ghahary will refer patients to an ENT (ear, nose, throat) specialist. There are also hearing clinics in and around Vancouver that are also well adept in conditions associated with the ear.

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