Your ears are one of the coolest body systems you have. Consider all they’re responsible for doing. Not only do they absorb sound, filter it and send it to the brain for interpretation, they also keep you steady on your feet and help keep the pressure in your head stable. They are two tough organs which contain the tiniest and most delicate three bones in the human body. Ears are often pierced, poked and swabbed, whether they should be or not. They are two dark and mysterious caverns in the head marked by two odd-looking flaps.
Your ears are what makes you sway to the music and what makes you want to chew gum on a plane. When you were younger, and perhaps now that you’re older, the ears can also be a frequent source of pain. Infections plague them because of too much liquid and not enough space for it to drain to. Sinus infections and allergies are rarely friends of the ears.
Many conditions afflict the ears throughout the ordinary course of your life. One such condition is tympanosclerosis. It is an anomaly that doctors can’t quite predict nor explain, but it can affect real change in your ears. In fact, it may lead to a permanent conductive hearing loss. What is this condition? Is there any way to treat it?
The Anatomy of the Ear – The Short Version
Your ears are divided up into three sections. Each of these three cavities is tasked with a different function.
The outer ear is the ear canal. It is the dark and winding road down into the body of the ear. People often use cotton swabs to get rid of unsightly wax that can be visible in the inner ear. This, however, is not a good idea for a few reasons.
First off, putting anything in your ear canal can cause damage you may never see or even feel. If an object is shoved in too quickly or with too much force, it can cause damage to the eardrum.
Objects can also become lodged in the ear canal and sometimes require surgical intervention to remove. Lastly, the wax is a friend, not a foe. It is a sign that your ear is working correctly.
Wax is made by the ear to act as a defensive barrier against outside invaders such as bacteria and water. If your ear gets too filled with wax, it may be necessary to see a doctor for removal.
There are some home remedies, such as using hydrogen peroxide to break up the wax that may be effective in ear cleaning.
If you haven’t see wax for a while, it may signal an issue further in the ear. As stated above, the wax is a good sign that the ear is doing its job. If it is not doing what it should, wax production may be halted.
The barrier between the inner and middle ear is the eardrum. Behind it is the airy tympanic cavity or middle ear. The membrane is the source of many ear infections.
Part of the problem is the Eustachian tubes which begin here and can become clogged. Once clogged they are unable to process fluid removal and air circulation to the middle ear. Pressure may be thrown off, and you may find yourself with a tight feeling in the ears.
This uncomfortable feeling is experienced when you are in an airplane because of the change in air pressure at that height. This change is usually fleeting unless there is a more serious underlying condition that prevents pressure equalization in the middle ear.
Finally, the inner ear is where the magic all comes together. It is the spot that houses the auditory nerve and the cochlea, each one working in its way to make sound waves.
Thousands of tiny hairs inside the cochlea vibrate and work the sound wave up into the auditory nerve and finally the brain where the waves are transformed into things that can be understood.
The vestibule is also housed in the ear and keeps you on your toes, literally. It is the part of the body responsible for balance. It is the place where motion sickness is born, and vertigo makes you feel like you can’t stop spinning.
The ears are tiny machines with parts that can break down and become broken. Unlike other machines, however, when they become broken there can be dire consequences.
Tympanosclerosis is an ailment that affects the ear. More specifically, it means there is a multitude of calcium buildup on the eardrum or within the middle ear. What does that mean? Isn’t calcium good for you?
Calcium buildup on the eardrum is a definite cause for concern. It occurs when there has been prolonged infection in the middle ear. The infection can be the result of many things, such as trapped fluid, inflamed and dysfunctional Eustachian tubes and other infections that tend to occur in the middle ear.
Some physicians believe that tympanosclerosis may be an autoimmune deficiency. Regardless, the bright white deposits on the eardrum and elsewhere within the middle ear cavity signal a problem with infections in the vicinity.
Are these infections fresh?
Not at all. The deposits don’t occur unless the environment has undergone severe inflammation. Sometimes these infections have just gone untreated for long periods of time, to the point that the inner ear is always inflamed. It would be pretty difficult to ignore this as inflammation of the ear in any capacity typically causes pain and pressure that can be felt in the head and face area.
The sinus cavity is in such proximity that it too can become infected if the Eustachian tubes are not functioning correctly. These tubes connect the sinuses with the ears and act as a drainage system between the two. When working correctly, the sinus cavity may receive some fluid removal from the ears. That fluid is eventually processed through the sinuses, thinned and expelled out via a person blowing the nose or absorbed back into the body itself. Either way, when the sinuses and ears are in sync, one helps out the other.
If the sinuses are inflamed, and the ears are as well, excess mucus like that produced during a bout with cold or persistent allergies builds up. The Eustachian tubes don’t offer much help in the way of drainage, and they can start working in reverse, funneling infected mucus and fluid from the sinuses into the ears. Once there, the liquid becomes trapped and causes antibodies to alert the immune system to infection.
Especially those habitually recurring in the middle ear can cause severe damage. If left untreated, they can lead to the conductive hearing loss.
While conductive hearing loss is usually a temporary condition occurring during an active infection, if left untreated, the hearing loss becomes permanent. This change in status is due to a hardening of the eardrum and therefore improper vibrations and relays routes for sound waves to travel. Thus, hearing is substantially minimized.
Calcium deposits on the eardrum cause the membrane to become thick and harden. If these deposits aren’t removed, this hardening can continue to create more hearing loss.
One theory is adults who suffered chronic middle ear infections as children have an increased risk of developing tympanosclerosis. In the past 40 years, the instance of surgery to help relieve the pressure on the middle ear in the face of infection has frequently been performed.
During surgery, a tiny tube is inserted in the eardrum through a small incision. The tube becomes a conduit whereby the infected materials, including liquid, can pass out of the middle ear. Once the inflammation is reduced, the middle ear starts to return to its normal function.
It’s believed that people who had tubes put in their ears are 120 percent more likely to develop tympanosclerosis. Whether it’s due to the implanted tube or not is still up for debate. The fact of the matter is, there is a higher incident of calcium deposits in people who have a history of middle ear infections.
There are no real extraordinary symptoms that signal one has tympanosclerosis. Usually, it’s discovered when a doctor examines the eardrum and sees the white substance coating it.
Once you are diagnosed with tympanosclerosis, your doctor will want to run you through some tests to see the extent of the damage. First and foremost, your middle ear will be examined for evidence of recent infection. Once that is ruled out, you will be administered a hearing test to see how much the ear system has been affected. Finally, given the circumstances of the hearing loss, (is it getting worse?), your doctor may decide to remove the deposits from the eardrum and other locations surgically. While this may not reverse permanent hearing loss, it can stop it from getting worse.
The prognosis for recovery from tympanosclerosis is pretty high. You will be monitored in the short and long-term to make sure no scarring or new tissue forms at the site of the removal. You may have already adjusted to the hearing loss, and your doctor may refer you for a hearing aid or other mechanism to help you deal with it.
Featured Image: CCO Public Domain via Wikipedia