Ear Disease and Hearing Loss

Woman suffering from hearing loss

The ear is a complex organ. Because it controls both hearing and balance, infections or other conditions could have far-reaching consequences.

At Southwest Idaho Ear, Nose, and Throat, we specialize in the evaluation and management of ear disease. Several of our physicians have extensive experience in treating ear disorders, including Drs. Delray Maughan and Ryan Van De Graaff.

Some common ear disorders are:

Outer Ear Infections

Otitis externa or “swimmer’s ear” is an infection of the ear canal. It usually results from excessive moisture in the canal or trauma to the canal. Symptoms include ear pain, discharge, and muffled hearing. Treatment consists of cleaning out debris and applying topical antibiotic drops. Occasionally, oral antibiotics may be required.

Cerumen Impaction

Impacted ear wax (cerumen) can cause diminished hearing, pressure in the ear, pain, or hearing aid malfunction. An ENT can clean cerumen out with the use of a microscope. This provides a much more pleasant experience over flushing of the ear canal.

Middle Ear Infections

Otitis media or middle ear infections occur most frequently in children but can affect adults as well. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can alleviate discomfort and prevent serious complications. Our providers can diagnose otitis media and provide appropriate medical and surgical therapy. Preventative measures can be employed as well for long-term control. Sometimes, a patient may need to have pressure equalization tubes placed in their ears. In children, this requires a surgical procedure in an operating room. In adults, this often can be performed in a physician’s office with a topical anesthesia.

Chronic Ear Disease

Other ear disorders include:

  • Tympanic membrane perforations (holes in the eardrum)
  • Cholesteatoma (skin cyst of the ear)
  • Chronic retraction of the tympanic membrane
  • Benign and malignant tumors of the outer and middle ear
  • Acute and chronic mastoiditis

These disorders can cause a variety of symptoms, including pain, drainage, hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing), or dizziness. An experienced ENT can accurately determine the cause of the symptoms. Often, surgery is required to treat chronic ear disease. Fortunately, SWIENT’s experts have the education and experience to provide good outcomes.

Hearing Loss

There are three different types of hearing loss:

Conductive hearing loss

Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound the outer or middle ear does not conduct sound effectively. Sound waves stop or slow down somewhere in the hearing mechanism, causing sounds to be heard at decreased levels. This type of a hearing loss can often be treated or corrected.

Conditions that can cause conductive hearing loss include:

  • Impacted wax
  • Foreign objects (Q-tip, bean, etc.)
  • Fluid
  • Ear drum perforations
  • Ossification of the bones
  • Missing structures

Sensorineural hearing loss

Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when the inner ear (cochlea) or nerve pathways to the brain are damaged. This kind of loss is almost always permanent and irreparable.

Conditions that cause a sensorineural loss include:

  • Disease that destroys structures of the inner ear
  • Head trauma
  • A tumor
  • Inner ear structures not present at birth
  • Ototoxic drugs or medication
  • Presbycusis - age related hearing loss
  • Excessive noise exposure

Mixed hearing loss

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of conductive loss and sensorineural loss. Risk factors include:


  • Aging
  • Heredity
  • Family history
  • Illnesses that produce a high fever
  • Trauma


  • Job-related noise exposure
  • Noise exposure from recreational activities (snowmobiling, motorcycling, shooting, loud music)
  • Ototoxic medication

An audiogram will determine the nature and degree of hearing loss. Often, hearing aids can help alleviate the problem. Surgically inserting a bone-anchored hearing device can remedy some single-sided losses of hearing.

In cases of sudden hearing loss, seek medical attention as soon as possible.


Tinnitus or ringing/noise in the ear(s) affects up to 25% of people worldwide at some point in their lives. It can range from a constant, high-pitched noise to a pulsation in the ear. The sound can be mild and subtle, sporadic or severe and intrusive. Because treatment can vary based on the source of the issue, an audiogram and a consultation with a capable ENT are recommended.

Other Disorders

If you are experiencing ear-related issues not covered here, contact SWIENT. A consultation with one of our ENTs can provide you with a diagnosis and treatment plan.