Connecting the Senses The Nose, Ears, and Potential Infections
We can’t look inside our own ears—but if we could, we would see that what goes on in the ears is intimately connected to the nose, and what goes on in the nose is intimately connected to the ears. Here’s how it works—and why it matters. Three distinct areas make up the human ear: the outer, middle, and inner ear.
The ear canal is part of the outer ear. This is the part we can see, the part that can get blocked with ear wax, and the part that captures sound from outside the body. The ear canal carries sound to a thin, translucent membrane—the eardrum—which a medical provider can easily observe in a clinical setting when evaluating a possible ear infection.
On the other side of the eardrum is the middle ear, an air-filled chamber that contains the ossicles (three tiny bones all linked together). When the eardrum vibrates with sound coming from the ear canal, the ossicles pick up the vibrations and amplify them, carrying them to the inner ear. The inner ear translates those vibrations into electrical signals and sends them to the auditory nerve, which is connected to the brain. When these nerve impulses reach the brain, they’re interpreted as sound. How do ear infections involve the nose? Nasal health is critical for healthy ears because there is a direct connection between the middle ear and the nose.
Just ask Molly, who was brought into my clinic after both her mother and kindergarten teacher expressed concern that she was not paying attention in class. A quick screen in the office indicated a “conductive hearing loss.” Mom wanted to avoid medications if possible, so she agreed to try nasal rinsing. Soon, Molly was washing like a pro, and two weeks later the repeat hearing test was normal. A simple and safe approach resolved her problem.
Let’s explore the reasons why such a simple approach is so effective.
For sound vibrations to send the signals to the inner ear, the middle part of the ear must be ventilated, allowing the air pressure on either side of the eardrum to equalize. The Eustachian tube is responsible for this ventilation, and for draining mucus from the middle ear into the back of the throat.