By carrying sound waves from the air to the brain to be interpreted as distinct sounds, we can isolate specific sounds regardless of the other sounds in our environment. We can even pick up the quietest of sounds while also being able to decipher just where a sound is coming from.

Our ears also help to keep us balanced, especially while we are moving, and can even clean themselves by producing earwax which the ears also get rid of on their own. But for our ears to be able to do all this, they need to be healthy.

Most people take their hearing for granted, but for the 10 million adults in the UK with hearing loss, that’s equivalent to one in six of the population, it can have a huge personal, social and even economic impact. Hearing loss can happen as a result of an ear disease which can also affect your balance and be incredibly painful. Any part of your ear is vulnerable to infection, disease or trauma which can lead to temporary or even permanent damage to your ears.

Hearing diseases

Not all diseases of the ear will affect your hearing, but there are some diseases and infections which can result in sensorineural or conductive hearing loss. Your hearing is particularly vulnerable to being temporarily or even permanently damaged if you leave the problem untreated. To help you keep your ears healthy and in good working order, here are four common ear diseases and symptoms to be aware of:

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 that affects around 6 million people in the UK. It 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 one in 1,000 adults in the UK are affected by Ménière’s disease, 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, or are sick, hear ringing or buzzing sounds. You may experience a sudden drop in your hearing on one side, known as unilateral hearing loss, which is thought to affect around 10% of adults in the UK. 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 or one of many hearing conditions. Long or repeated exposure to very loud noises can also cause a ruptured eardrum and lead to noise-induced hearing loss which affects more than 10 million adults in the UK. Symptoms of a ruptured or perforated 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.