Our ears are remarkable and complex devices that take the information from the world of sound around us, and change it into signals that the brain can use. Part of this system is the middle ear space, including the eardrums and tiny bones of hearing, that help to concentrate and amplify very small sounds for the inner ear hearing nerves to employ.
Running from the back of the nose, to the space behind the eardrums (the middle ear), are passageways called the Eustachian (you-stay-she-in) tubes. They ventilate the middle ear space, and help keep air pressure constant within the ears. Normally, they are closed, but every now and then they open to equalize the air pressure. This is why our ears pop when we go up and down mountains, or in elevators.
If something prevents these tubes from opening when they’re supposed to, then the air inside the middle ear gets stale. It starts to get absorbed by the body, and we can get a partial vacuum in the ear that is called negative pressure. This is what is happening when we say the eardrums are retracted. If the vacuum gets strong enough, it starts to pull fluid out of the surrounding tissues, and we get an ear filled with fluid.
If, during this process, that fluid becomes infected, then we have a true ear infection. Otitis Media is literally an inflammation of the middle ear. So we can have fluid in the ears, like mucous, or we can have infected fluid that is more like pus. There is a distinction. Fluid in the ears, infected or not, is a symptom of Eustachian tube dysfunction.
In children, the three most frequent causes of Eustachian tube dysfunction are: allergies, enlarged adenoids, and upper respiratory infections. Your physicians are the experts in identifying the cause of your Eustachian tube dysfunction. Children (and some adults, too) can go to bed appearing just fine, and wake up with middle ear fluid. It can happen that quickly. It is also a very frequent occurrence. Fluid in the ears is the third most common reason for visits to the pediatrician, following well visits and the common cold.
Determining the cause of the Eustachian tube dysfunction is the first step in deciding on the appropriate treatment plan for someone. The frequency in which a person is having episodes of middle ear fluid or infections helps the physician determine whether a medical or surgical approach (such as the insertion of small ventilation tubes) is most appropriate for them.
Untreated middle ear fluid and ear infections can have some significant consequences that may include contributing to speech and language developmental delays in children. For all, persistent infections can migrate into other areas and structures around the ears.
At Advanced Specialty Care, we have a dedicated team of audiologists who ,through diagnostic testing and conversations, will work with you to not only determine what your hearing abilities are, but also what solutions for better hearing and communication are right for you. Our offices are located in Fairfield County, CT in Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk and Ridgefield.
- Arthur S. Tepper, Au.D.