Lend me your ear

‘Tis the season for coughs and colds – and I spend quite a bit of time drawing pictures of ears to help patients understand what is happening in an ear infection. So I thought I’d share it with you. These images are from UptoDate – a great resource for accurate evidence-based medicine! 😀

ear copy


Here’s what a normal ear looks like: the outer ear, the canal (where wax builds up), the tympanic membrane (vibrates so we can hear sound and sends the vibration through the 3 bones and then off through a nerve to the brain), and the Eustachian tube (connects the middle ear to the back of the throat so any fluid in the middle ear can drain out).



ear 2 copy


The space behind the tympanic membrane is usually filled with air, but with a middle ear infection, often the Eustachian tube is blocked (from allergies or with inflammation from a cold) and fluid accumulates. Then bacteria can infect the fluid. When I look at an infected ear with an otoscope, the tympanic membrane is red and bulging (ouch!). And since it can’t vibrate well, hearing is often affected too.

Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an infection in the canal – and instead of antibiotics by mouth, it can usually be treated by drops in the ear.

Handy Tips – wash your hands before eating, cough into your elbow, and don’t poke cotton swabs in your ears!