Our ears are amazing, complex pieces of work. They give us our hearing and our sense of balance. They work with our other senses to make us aware of our surroundings.
But occasionally our ears can cause us problems. If you’re a parent or carer of a young child, you’ll know this is especially true. Babies, infants and children are all prone to ear infections and most will have had a few ear infections by the time they’re 7. This can be a worrying time for parents because if the child is young, they can’t very well communicate what’s wrong and how much pain they’re in.
This brochure will tell you about some of the most common ear problems both children and adults face - and give you an idea about some of the signs to watch out for. We’ll also provide some practical advice on how you can treat and prevent ear problems. But first of all, let’s look at how our ears work.
Inside the ear
Our ears are made up of three main parts:
The outer ear
This is made up of the outer ear rim (pinna) and the outer ear canal. Here sound waves move down the outer canal to the eardrum, which then vibrates. In this part of the ear, wax and dead skin cells are constantly moving out towards the pinna, to be cleared out of the ear.
The middle ear
This is the most common site of infection for children. It’s made up of the eardrum and three small bones (the stirrup, anvil and hammer). These bones pick up the eardrum’s vibrations and send them to the inner ear. Connecting the middle ear to the back of the throat is a hollow tube called the eustachian tube. For babies and young children, the eustachian tube is a lot shorter and narrower. This means it’s a lot easier for any infections to travel up the tube from the throat.
The inner ear
In this part there’s the cochlea, the auditory nerve and the organ of balance. The cochlea changes vibrations from the middle ear into impulses that are sent to our brain. We interpret these impulses as sound.