The main diseases and symptoms

The ear is a sensitive and complex sense organ. It enables people to hear and is also connected to the organ of equilibrium. Diseases of the ears can therefore have far-reaching consequences and can be perceived by those affected as very impairing. Chronic ear diseases, in particular, are agonizing and often cause hearing loss. Hearing and balance problems are not always direct illnesses, but rather symptoms that are caused by other illnesses. For example, widespread tinnitus is a symptom - not a disease. Injuries and stress can also cause symptoms that are perceived as ear diseases.

Overview of ear diseases

The most common ear diseases are inflammation, but there are a number of other direct diseases of the sensory organ. Here is an overview of the most important ear diseases:


Infections of the ear are classified according to the affected areas: inflammation of the inner ear (otitis interna), otitis media and ear canal inflammation (otitis externa). Acute and chronic middle ear infections are the most common. The main causes of these diseases are viruses and bacteria that enter the ear area from outside or through the nasopharynx. In the case of bacterial inflammation, specialists in ENT medicine usually prescribe antibiotics. In severe cases, inflammation of the ear can lead to hearing loss or tinnitus.


A cholesteatoma is a purulent inflammation of the middle ear that causes benign growth. Over time, it can damage other areas of the ear and cause ear pain and headaches. Possible causes include an eardrum defect and chronic otitis media, and a cholesteatoma can be congenital (birth defect). For complete healing, surgical interventions by specialists are required, in which the affected areas are removed and restored by plastic reconstruction.

Meniere's disease

This unilateral, presumably hereditary ear disease of the inner ear occurs rarely. It leads to symptoms such as hearing loss, tinnitus and dizziness, which usually occur in seizures that last only a few minutes, but sometimes longer. Those affected are treated by the treating ENT specialist with medication both preventively and acutely, so that the symptoms can usually be significantly alleviated


Due to hardening and new bone formation on the stirrup, hammer and anvil, the ossicles can no longer adequately transmit sound. The consequences are hearing loss and possibly tinnitus. The causes have not been fully researched, but there are probably connections to viral infections, faulty autoimmune processes and hereditary predispositions. It is mostly the lower frequencies that are more affected by hearing loss. Hearing can often be restored through surgery.

Usher syndrome

This very rare, hereditary disease causes degeneration of the retina and inner ear, which means slowly progressive damage to eyesight and hearing. The fine hair cells in the inner ear are affected, which are vibrated by sound waves. The result: acoustic signals are passed on worse or not at all. The goal of specialist therapy is to use medication to slow the progression of the disease. At the same time, visual aids and hearing aids can compensate for the impairments.

Tinnitus and sudden hearing loss - excruciating, but not real ear diseases

They are often mentioned in the same breath and are perceived by many people as ear diseases: sudden hearing loss and tinnitus. Even if there are connections, they are separate symptoms that are triggered by different influences or diseases and must be clarified by an ENT specialist ( neus keel oorspecialist Oostende) in each case:


Tinnitus is an acute or chronic noise in the ear that is heard as whistling or hissing. Although diseases such as otitis media can be the cause, in most cases noise or stress are the cause. If the cause can be clearly identified, the ENT doctor advises eliminating or avoiding it. In the case of chronic tinnitus, it can also help sufferers to use relaxation exercises to learn to perceive the symptoms as little as possible.

Sudden hearing loss A sudden hearing loss can be one-sided hearing problems or even hearing loss. Symptoms include a dull feeling in the ear and ringing in the ears (acute tinnitus). Therefore, sudden hearing loss is often equated with tinnitus. The reasons can be varied, including poor blood flow to the inner ear and, above all, stress. Although the symptoms of sudden hearing loss can go away on their own, it is important to consult an ENT doctor as soon as possible. He can decide whether immediate treatment with cortisone or a drug that increases blood flow is advisable.

Hearing loss

Deafness (hypacusis) is not an ear disease, but a consequence that must always be clarified by an ENT doctor. There are different forms, which are divided into three main types: conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss and combined conductive and acoustic hearing loss:

In the case of conductive hearing loss, the sound waves reach the inner ear less or not at all. The cause can be a malformation or a blockage in the ear canal. Conductive hearing loss in the middle ear is often the result of an infection. Those affected perceive everyday noises much more quietly and have the feeling of hearing through cotton wool.

Sensorineural hearing loss mostly affects the inner ear. Sound waves are transmitted from the eardrum and ossicles to the inner ear, but are not properly processed and passed on by the damaged hair cells. If prolonged exposure to noise is the cause of the damage, one speaks of noise-induced hearing loss.

Elderly hearing loss (presbycusis) is the most common form of sensorineural hearing loss. It arises primarily as the effects of the natural degeneration processes of our body in old age. Of course, this also affects the auditory cells in the inner ear, which gradually declines hearing. Hearing loss is typical, especially at high frequencies. In many cases, age-related hearing loss can be well compensated for, for example, with professional hearing aid.

In the case of a combined conductivity and sensorineural hearing loss, diseases in the middle and inner ear occur simultaneously.

Further damage and symptoms as a result of other diseases

Hearing problems can not only arise from ear diseases, but also from further stress or damage to areas of the ear:

Injuries to the eardrum

External influences such as a blow to the head or a fall can tear the eardrum. A middle ear infection or a loud bang are also possible causes. Very often, however, injuries to the eardrum are caused by careless cleaning of the ear with cotton swabs. In less severe cases, the eardrum heals on its own. If the tear is larger, the ENT doctor will perform a splint or reconstruction during an operation. This means that the eardrum is repaired or replaced by the body's own tissue.

Timpani effusion

The tympanic cavity is a cavity in the middle ear that is located behind the eardrum. There is often a slight negative pressure there, which can usually be compensated by swallowing. As a result of colds, secretions can accumulate in the tympanic cavity and cannot drain away. Those affected find the resulting persistent feeling of pressure uncomfortable, and they often complain of hearing loss. Viruses and bacteria can reach the ear area through the secretion, which in turn can cause otitis media. Young children in particular suffer from ear effusion. If the secretion does not flow off by itself within a few days, an ENT medical examination must be carried out and therapy initiated.


vertigo In positional vertigo, tiny otoliths (also called ear stones or statoliths) loosen in the ear and get into the semicircular canals belonging to the equilibrium organ, causing dizziness. Triggers are jerky movements of the body or head. During medical treatment, those affected learn movement exercises through which the otoliths move out of the semicircular canals and thus no longer impair their sense of balance.


Barotrauma is caused by changes in pressure in the middle ear, such as when diving or flying. Symptoms of barotrauma are severe earache and dizziness, and severe nausea. With sudden and strong changes in pressure, tears in the eardrum are possible, in more severe cases bleeding occurs in the middle ear. Cortisone is used for medical treatment, and surgery may be necessary. If the hearing is severely damaged, persistent hearing loss can develop. Then a supply of hearing aids is advisable.