that allow you to experience one of the most fantastic senses we have: hearing. Your ears carry sound waves from the air around you to your brain which are then interpreted as distinct sounds that you can understand.

When it works properly, your sense of hearing is extremely adaptable. It lets you pick up even the quietest of sounds, isolate one specific sound out of other sounds in your environment, and enable you to identify which direction a sound is coming from.

But your ears do much more than allow you to hear. They help you with balance, even as you are moving, and have the ability to self-clean by producing and expelling ear wax. Your ears are also home to the smallest bones in your body. Your ears are only able to do these complex tasks if each part of them is healthy and in the best working order, otherwise, you may experience ear disease and hearing loss.

Hearing loss affects 4 million Canadians, equivalent to one out of 10 of the population. A loss of hearing can be caused by ear disease which not only affects your hearing and balance but is also extremely painful. Disease or trauma to the ear can affect all parts of your ear, including the inner ear, middle ear and ear canal. Every part of your ear is vulnerable to trauma and infection which can lead to problems varying from minor to severe.

Hearing diseases

While not all types of diseases of the ear cause hearing loss, certain types of ear diseases and infections can lead to sensorineural or conductive hearing loss, particularly if left untreated. Here are four common ear diseases and symptoms you should be aware of:

  • Ear infections
  • Tinnitus (ringing in ears)
  • Ménière’s disease
  • Ruptured eardrum

Ear infections

Inner and outer ear infections are the most common form of ear pain.

  • Inner ear infections (otitis media) is often caused by cold and flu viruses. The infection usually clears up after a few days and can be treated with painkillers. Antibiotics may be prescribed if it doesn’t clear up after three days or you have discharge.
  • Outer ear infection (otitis externa) can be caused by bacterial, fungal, or yeast infections or irritation from wearing a hearing aid or earplugs. Also common in people with skin problems or keen swimmers and treated with ear drops or antibiotic medication.

Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a relatively common ear condition with around 9 million Canadians, equivalent to around 35% of the population experiencing tinnitus symptoms. Tinnitus refers to when you hear sounds in your ears when there is no external source. It can occur as a ringing, roaring, buzzing, or whistling sound which can be low, medium, or high-pitched. It’s often linked to age-related hearing loss or following exposure to loud noise. It can be temporary, but for some people, it occurs frequently or they have it all the time.

Ménière’s disease

Around 1 in 1,000 people or 35,000 Canadians are affected by Ménière’s disease, which is a long-term, progressive inner ear disease that affects balance and the hearing parts of your inner ear. Ménière’s disease can cause you to feel dizzy and unsteady, experience a spinning sensation, feel sick, hear ringing or buzzing sounds. You may experience a sudden drop in your hearing on one side, known as unilateral hearing loss, which affects one in three Canadians with hearing loss. These symptoms can happen at the same time and last for minutes, hours, or in severe cases, you can experience permanent hearing loss.

Ruptured eardrum

Sudden changes in air pressure, foreign objects in the ear, or infection can tear the delicate eardrum causing discomfort, possibly leading to a hearing condition. Long or repeated exposure to very loud noises can also cause a ruptured eardrum and lead to noise-induced hearing loss. Symptoms of a ruptured eardrum can include:

  • Earache or pain in the ear
  • Sudden hearing loss causing your hearing to be muffled or you struggle to hear anything
  • Itching in your ear
  • Ear discharge
  • Tinnitus

If you are concerned about your hearing or you are experiencing pain or discomfort in your ears, you should schedule a consultation with your hearing care professional or doctor as soon as possible.