Ear diseases and infections

Types of ear infections

  • Outer ear infections affect the external ear canal and cause ear pain, tenderness on touching the ear itself, discharge and hearing loss.

  • Middle ear infections affect the middle ear beyond the eardrum and cause ear pain, hearing loss, and sometimes discharge after a few days of pain, but this is not always the case. This may result in fluid remaining in the middle ear and conductive hearing loss (see below).

  • Inner ear infections are more uncommon and present with hearing loss and/or severe vertigo.

All three types of ear infections may cause fevers.

Types of hearing loss

Conductive hearing losses affect the portion of the hearing mechanism that includes the ear canal, eardrum, the middle ear and its’ tiny bones. This may be in the form of wax, outer ear infections, eardrum disease, or middle ear problems.

Sensorineural deafness relates to problems of the inner ear, the nerve to the brain or the brain itself.

Childhood hearing loss

Childhood hearing loss is most commonly due to fluid in the middle ear, whether secondary to recurrent ear infections, or occurring in the absence of ear infections. This may present with the child not responding appropriately, or in more serious situations a speech deficit. Congenital causes of hearing loss are usually more severe, but are thankfully much less common.

Adult hearing loss

There are different types of hearing loss, affecting people of all ages. Many adults will have some element of hearing loss, which increases as you get older. Often this is due to noise-induced damage, degradation in the inner ear hearing mechanism as you get older, or other less common problems such as trauma, drugs, or viral infections.


Cholesteatomas are where the normal migratory action of the skin of the eardrum is disrupted and the skin cells of the eardrum ball up and produce pressure damage to the structures around it. If there is concern that there is a cholesteatoma present, thenthe patient should be reviewed by an ENT.

When should I seek assistance for hearing problems?

  • Sudden hearing loss – this situation should be reviewed by an ENT specialist within 48 hrs

  • Hearing loss in a person that only has hearing in one ear

  • Hearing loss in a child that continues for more than a month or is associated with speech delay

  • If there is gradual deterioration in your hearing and you would like to investigate the cause and potential treatments

  • Hearing loss associated with vertigo or tinnitus