Every day I look in about 20 patient’s ears. I am looking for a healthy ear. I am also making sure that the ear canal is free of cerumen (wax). I want to make sure the tympanic membrane (ear drum) is intact and healthy. I want to make sure there is no fluid or infection present. Like most infections the ear may become painful or tender. You may have a colored discharge secreting from your ear canal. The color of the discharge may range from a very light yellow to a nasty looking green. Wax may also be in the mix. The ear canal may also have a noticeable displeasing odor.
Can you have an ear infection and NOT realize it? Sure. Especially at the beginning stages there may not be any discomfort. Sometimes you will see the fluid discharge on your pillow in the morning. During the day your ear may feel unusually wet. If you think you may be having an issue it is best to have it checked out by your Hearing Health Care Professional as soon as possible.
Can an ear infection cause a hearing loss? YES. However, usually the hearing loss is only temporary if you get the infection treated rapidly. An untreated infection can cause permanent irreversible hearing loss. Ear infections are caused by bacteria or virus that gets trapped in the middle ear cavity or comes from the eyes or mouth. Allergies, colds, and flus are all contributors. This is because they cause congestion and swelling of the nasal passages...then the throat and Eustachian tube also experiences inflammation. The infection builds up on the other side of the eardrum causing pressure and pain. Often patients feel like their ear is just “going to blow”. The Eustachian tubes run from the middle of ear (behind the ear drum) to the back of the throat. This is what drains fluid out of the ear. Thus, sinus fluid that drains into the middle ear cavity then drains out by way of the Eustachian tubes. If the Eustachian tube becomes blocked then the fluid is trapped and an infection can develop, People who have reoccurring or chronic ear infections can end up with a very damaged ear and possible permanent hearing loss.
You can also get an infection in just the ear canal... (before you get to the eardrum). This is called an Outer ear infection. Your ear canal is exposed to dirt and debris...not to mention fingers and fingernails (which may be dirty), and q-tips ™ among many other various objects that we may use to itch or ‘attempt to clean our ears with.’ The ear canal is warm and moist, so it is easy breeding ground for an infection. The ear canal may become hot feeling. There may be some crusting of the skin. It may be tender or painful. It may swell partially closed. People with skin issues such as psoriasis or eczema are at a greater risk of developing out ear infections.
It is important if you wear a hearing instrument that you clean it properly. Cleaning supplies that are safe for hearing instruments are available. Wipe off your hearing instrument daily with a dry paper towel and clean and remove any visible wax. DO NOT use alcohol daily on the plastic of the hearing Instruments. This will eventually cause the plastics to dry out and cracking to occur. Using a cleaning spray specifically designed for hearing instruments will have them disinfected and looking like new. We have these available for you. If you have an ear infection or a chronic running ear, then you should clean BOTH aids every time you take them out....and then AGAIN before you put them back in. This is to ensure that you get them thoroughly disinfected and do not cross contaminant the good ear. Touching one infected aid and then touching the other can spread bacteria easily.
Your hearing instruments should be cleaned and disinfected by your Hearing Care Professional at least twice per year... however, depending upon your personal “ear history’ you may need more constant and continual care. If you are wondering if something is “going on with my ear” ... don’t wait....have a Hearing Health Care Provider take a look! To Hear Better Is To Live Better!