The external ear canal, also known as the external auditory canal, is the structure of the ear that connects the outside of the ear to the tympanic membrane (eardrum). The canal is more of a passageway that allows sound to enter. With the canal being narrow it captures the sound waves and keeps them from being redirected in other directions. The structure of the ear canal gives sound waves a clear path to the eardrum. You may be familiar with middle and inner ear problems, but the external ear has its share of issues as well.
External Ear Canal
The external ear canal is a tube that curves towards the eardrum. The eardrum is made of both cartilage and bone. The outside portion of the ear canal is made of cartilage. The inner part of the canal is composed of bone. This structuring makes the canal strong. It is not a structure that can collapse or break easily. Although the external portion of the ear canal is strong, it is susceptible to issues such as a cyst.
External Ear Canal Development Problems
The external ear canal can develop improperly in the womb and create birth defects that will affect a child’s hearing. Two of the most frequent external ear canal problems related to development are auditory canal Stenosis and auditory canal Atresia. Both conditions affect the external auditory canal but in entirely different ways.
Auditory canal atresia is the complete lack of an external auditory canal. It is seen in the congenital deformity of microtia. Microtia is a congenital deformity where the ear does not completely develop. It is a term for a small ear. The ears are not just made small, but they do not develop fully. Without an external auditory canal, hearing is not possible. The middle ear sometimes does not fully develop as well. To fix the problem, surgery is required. The ear has to be restructured and the ear canal has to be created.
Auditory canal stenosis is another congenital deformity that causes the external ear canal to be extremely narrow. This issue can be a result of a malformation of either the middle ear or the external ear. Auditory canal stenosis is not always congenital but in more times than not it is. External canal stenosis can happen after birth. Causes post-birth include trauma, inflammation, and abnormal healing post-surgery. When the ear canal is too narrow, hearing is affected. It also creates issues with cerumen impaction. This disorder can also cause cholesteatoma.
Cholesteatoma is a cyst that is related to the ear. It can be caused by auditory canal stenosis, but it is not limited to only that condition. Cholesteatomas can be painful, and if not removed, they will continue to grow. They are growths made of epithelial cells. Cholesteatomas are not cancerous, but they do create a lot of irritation in the ear canal. They develop in the mastoid bone which is the bone that makes up the ear canal. If they are not removed, they may cause hearing loss and create ear infections.
You may be familiar with abscesses in other areas of the body, but they can also be found in the ear. Abscesses frequently develop in the external auditory canal. An abscess is an inflamed part of the body that contains puss. Abscesses of the auditory ear canal start as boils in the ear. The boil then goes into the deeper tissues of the ear canal and creates an abscess. An abscess forms because of a bacterial infection. They are caused by different factors. If you do not have proper hygiene practices, you may develop an abscess. They can also form in people whose immune system is down. You will commonly see an abscess in people who are terminally ill. Lastly, those who are very unhealthy tend to get reoccurring abscesses. People who are morbidly obese are extremely susceptible to abscesses. When the abscess is present, it brings along pain as well as fever and inflammation. With bacteria being involved, the fever is inevitable. The best treatment is antibiotics. Doctors will drain the abscess to remove the puss. It is also good to increase antioxidants in your diet in order boost your immune system.
Middle and inner ear problems are common. Disorders of the external ear canal are not as familiar to the average person. Problems such as auditory ear stenosis and atresia can occur before birth. Cholesteatoma and abscess are problems that are common in adults. It is always best to be aware of the issues in the external ear canal, especially since it is easier to monitor those changes. Whenever you see or feel an abnormality in the ear canal, it is best to see a physician. Boils may not seem harmful, but it is good to be aware of them and make sure they don’t lead to an abscess. Awareness is the best way to prevent minor problems from leading to bigger issues.
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