Conditions of the Head & Neck

Ear Conditions


Similar to your tonsils, the adenoids are composed of lymphatic tissue that helps to prevent infection. Unlike the tonsils, however, they can’t be seen or evaluated by simply opening your mouth, because they’re located higher up and behind the nose. If your adenoids become chronically infected or enlarged, you could have trouble breathing, snore, or develop ear infections. Your adenoids can be evaluated by X-ray or during a tonsillectomy and subsequently removed if necessary.

Ear Infections

There are three basic classifications of ear infections, and they depend on the location of the infection within the ear. The outer ear is the area ranging from the part you can see to the eardrum. Behind the eardrum is the middle ear. Behind that, the inner ear houses the semicircular canals of the cochlea.

Middle Ear

The most common ear infection occurs in the middle ear and is referred to as otitis media. Middle ear infections are caused when the Eustachian tube, which that runs from the middle ear to the wall of the area behind your nose, does not function correctly. It normally acts like a vacuum for the middle ear space, but if it doesn’t function correctly, air can throw off the balance of the middle ear’s air pressure. Middle ear infections can also be caused if bacteria from an upper respiratory infection travels to the middle ear. Middle ear infections can be treated with antibiotics and decongestants can aid in reestablishing normal middle ear pressure.

Inner Ear

Otitis interna, or an infection of the inner ear, occurs when a virus or bacteria causes the inner ear’s structures to become inflamed. Symptoms of an inner ear infection differ from those of a middle ear infection; while you may still have pain, you may also experience a severe disturbance in balance, hearing loss, or tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Inner ear infections can be treated with steroids, antibiotics, or antiviral medication, depending on the cause of infection. Dizziness symptoms can be managed with medications until the infection is resolved. Inner ear infections can occur suddenly and are easiest to resolve if they’re treated early.

Outer Ear

Otitis externa, an outer ear infection, occurs when debris in the ear canal causes it to become infected. Common external ear infections are caused by bacteria and fungi, which can cause pain, swelling, and itching. These infections can be treated by an ENT with drops or other medications that can be applied directly into the ear canal. It is imperative to keep the ear canal dry when treating an outer ear infection.

Secondhand Smoke and Ear Infections

Smoking is known to affect the normal, healthy mucous production of the nasal airways and sinuses. When mucous production is interrupted, the mucous can back up into the sinuses and nasal passages and become infected. The Eustachian tube is located near the area behind your nose, so contact with secondhand smoke can cause it to dysfunction. This compromises the cleanliness of the middle ear. All of this together increases the chance for an ear infection. Studies have shown that children exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to suffer from ear infections than children who are not regularly exposed to secondhand smoke.

Ear Infections in Children

It is more common for children to suffer from more ear infections than adults. This is partially because children’s immune systems are still developing and are not as equipped to fight off infections. It’s also because the Eustachian tube, which is angled downward in most adults, runs more straight in children. This means that gravity can’t help as much in removing fluid from the middle ear if the child acquires an upper respiratory infection or other issue that would cause fluid to accumulate. What’s more, the adenoids can also become enlarged as they filter bacteria from the body. This bacteria can easily be passed from the adenoids to the middle ear.

Ear infections

Swimmer's Ear

Swimmer’s ear is caused by water trapped in the ear canal. This creates a warm, moist environment that is attractive to bacteria and other microorganisms. Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include pain, itching, clear and odorless otorrhea (drainage), and redness and swelling of the ear. If left untreated, swimmer’s ear can cause the lymph nodes in the neck to swell or create a fever. An ENT can prescribe medication and clean the ear of infected debris. The best way to avoid swimmer’s ear is to keep your ears dry when you’re in water; swimmer’s plugs or a cotton ball with petroleum jelly on it will keep your ears dry and safe.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea can be diagnosed by monitoring you while you sleep and counting how many times you stop or almost stop breathing. There are two classifications of sleep apnea: obstructive sleep apnea involves the tonsils, uvula, soft palate, and nasal septum, while the less-common central sleep apnea results from the brain not communicating with the muscles involved in breathing. Sleep apnea often causes you to snore and can lead to symptoms like extreme fatigue.

C-PAP machines can be used to treat sleep apnea, but ENT evaluation is always a good idea prior to acquiring one; some individuals with obstructive sleep apnea may find their symptoms can be more quickly and easily resolved with surgery. Common procedures to resolve sleep apnea include removing the enlarged tonsils or uvula (the punching bag that hangs in the back of the throat) and straightening a deviated nasal septum.


The sound of snoring is caused by the vibrations when air collides with the tissues of the mouth and nose. Allergies, illness, alcohol, and weight gain can sometimes cause snoring. However, if snoring becomes very loud, interferes with sleep, or becomes bothersome to your partner, it may be time to see an ENT. Like sleep apnea, some cases of snoring may be caused due to enlarged tonsils, an enlarged uvula, or a deviated nasal septum; all of these factors will make it difficult for air to pass through the mouth and nose. Removing the tonsils or uvula or straightening the nasal septum through surgery may decrease or eliminate some patients’ snoring.

Sore Throat

A sore throat can occur for a number of reasons. Bacterial or viral infection can create pain when swallowing, scratchiness or itchiness, hoarseness, or overall throat discomfort. Breathing through your mouth consistently or if the air around you has little to no humidity, the resulting dryness can also cause a sore throat. Sore throats may also result from gastro esophageal reflux disorder, due to repeated exposure to stomach acid. However, if your sore throat is recurrent or if you suffer from chronic tonsillitis, you may want to have your tonsils evaluated.

Head and Neck Cancer

The different types of head and neck cancer can occur in the following areas: the oral cavity, the pharynx (including the oropharynx, nasopharynx and hypopharynx,) the larynx, and the paranasal sinuses (including the nasal cavity and salivary glands). These cancers typically occur in the squamous cells, those that form the mucosal linings of tissues included in the head and neck. If they begin to grow irregularly, they can form squamous carcinomas. Tobacco and alcohol use are the two most common risk factors associated with head and neck cancers. The National Cancer Institute outlines common symptoms here. If you feel you may be at risk for head or neck cancer, follow up with a physician for further evaluation.


The tonsils are two patches of lymphatic tissue located in the back of the throat. They’re easily viewed if you point a light toward the back of your mouth. When your tonsils function correctly, they filter bacteria and other toxins from the body. However, sometimes tonsils become chronically infected and are no longer helpful to the body. If you have frequent sore throats, episodes of strep throat or tonsillitis, enlargements of the tonsils that interfere with swallowing and breathing, or production of pustules better known as “tonsil stones,” your tonsils may no longer be good for you.

Removing your tonsils will not impact your immune system negatively or decrease your ability to combat illness. In fact, chronically infected tonsils are a source of ongoing illness, and many patients find themselves feeling healthier and stronger after infected tonsils are removed.

Further resources for ENT health:

Highland Location

Highland office

222 W. Highland Rd.
Highland, MI 48357
Send Us an E-mail

p. (248) 889-7600

Howell Location

Howell office

820 Byron Rd. Ste. 500
Howell, MI 48843
Send Us an E-mail

p. (517) 548-5900

© 2018 Wandzel ENT | Huron Vallery Hearing
Wandzel E.N.T.
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Highland Location

222 W. Highland Rd.
Highland, MI 48357

(248) 889-7600
Howell Location

820 Byron Rd. Ste. 500
Howell, MI 48843

(517) 548-5900