Tinnitus, dizziness and deafness? Three operations that solve these problems.
There are many causes of hearing loss, dizziness, and tinnitus. Some of them are autoimmune or genetic diseases. If you neglect the problems with your ears for a longer time, it can lead to a total loss of hearing. Otolaryngologist Andrei Lifshitz talks about three microsurgical operations that allow people to regain their hearing.
What are the most common complaints of the patients?
Most often they notice that their hearing is worse than it used to be. Hearing loss is often accompanied by tinnitus. If the noises resemble the waves of the sea, it may mean there is an earwax plug or a perforation of the eardrum (people say "ruptured eardrum"). If the noise is high and squeaking, then the problem could be in the inner ear. Of course, we do not rely solely on this data; we always carry out an additional examination. But noise in the ears is a symptom that can also indicate hearing loss. Dizziness may also be present.
Therefore, in any case, the first thing to do in case of tinnitus, problems with the vestibular apparatus and hearing loss is to consult an ENT specialist.
How is the diagnosis made?
Hearing loss can be caused by various reasons, so initially I examine the patient. On visual inspection, some changes are noticeable, such as perforation of the eardrum or discharge from the ear. This may indicate inflammation, or cholesteatoma (tumour-like formations that contain aggressively proliferating skin cells that grow into the middle ear).
Cholesteatomas are dangerous - they destroy the bone tissue, including the auditory ossicles that are responsible for hearing and are located in the middle ear.
On the spot the doctor can perform audiometry (a hearing test) and tympanometry (it tests the mobility of the eardrum, pressure in the middle ear). If necessary - acoustic reflexometry (also a hearing test) as well. Combining the results of the tests, one can determine what the problem is and how to treat it. Because sometimes the ears hurt due to nasal diseases – a curved septum, which leads to chronic inflammation in the nose and nasopharynx, and, as a result, causes problems in the Eustachian tube.
Polyps of the nose, adenoids, etc. can also be to blame.
Additionally, the doctor may prescribe magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT). Next, we can discuss the treatment plan.
For example, a patient comes in and claims that his hearing has gone bad. We investigate the ear and see the perforation of the eardrum. We perform a hearing test to see if it is enough to restore the membrane or are there any other problems. We offer a treatment plan.
We can fix many of the problems of the outer and middle ear surgically, and in a minimally invasive way. I will tell you about three operations that can cure ear pathologies and restore hearing.
1. Surgery on a perforated eardrum
This is not the most difficult surgery, but it can be done within an hour under general anaesthesia. It is quite a jeweller’s work - the eardrum on average is only 8-10 millimetres in diameter, so all the manipulations are carried out under a microscope. First, we take the material for the “patch” (most often it is the fascia – connective tissue over the muscles, or perichondria, or, if the opening in the membrane is large, the ear cartilage itself. Then the edges of the perforation site are refreshed so that the patch could connect to it. Then the middle ear is opened, the eardrum is raised, and an implant flap is inserted under it.
How fast does the patient recover?
After the operation, a special swab is inserted into the external ear canal, which is easy to extract, it does not stick to the ear, but allows fluids to pass through. You need to wear the swab for two weeks and instil an antibacterial agent through it.
When does the hearing return?
Ideally, the flap fully adheres after a month, which can usually be seen during an examination. But unfortunately, in 4 - 10% of cases, a second operation is required.
The patient remains in the hospital under the supervision of a doctor for a day. And the very next day returns to normal life. Due to the swab, the hearing will be slightly reduced at first. You need to be prepared for the fact that the maximum improvement in hearing will come into effect only after six months.
2. Microsurgery in case of cholesteatoma
Cholesteatoma is a formation that contains aggressively proliferating skin cells that grow into the middle ear. It usually affects the eardrum and auditory ossicles (malleus, anvil and stapes). The disease develops slowly and is asymptomatic at first. One of the first signs is liquid seeping from the ears. If you ignore the disease, you can lose your hearing completely, it can cause paralysis in the face and even an abscess of the brain.
The main goal of the operation is to remove the entire cholesteatoma. If there is even a tiny piece left, the formation can grow anew.
The gold standard for detecting cholesteatoma is computed tomography. According to its results, it becomes clear which part of the ear is damaged. The scope of the operation depends on where the destruction of the bone structure is visible; where there are cavities filled with soft tissues instead of bones; whether the bones of the middle ear are deformed.
At what age does the disease usually develop?
Most often we see the disease in young people. Rarely among older people, if they have it, they have usually already been operated before. A while back, the disease was common in children. Now for children with chronic secretory otitis media, a special tube, an ear shunt is inserted into the eardrum, which, when inflammation occurs, the Eustachian tube swells and ventilation is difficult, drains the fluid from the middle ear and helps to get air into it. And the hearing of the child is restored. Previously, there were no such technologies, which at first led to the development of chronic inflammation (longer than three months), and then to cholesteatoma.
How fast is recovery after the cholesteatoma surgery?
This is the most difficult operation, because very often in addition to removing the cholesteatoma, you need to restore the chain of three tiny bones (hammer, anvil and stapes). Previously, everything was done in two stages – in the beginning, the cholesteatoma was removed, then the bones were restored. Now this is often done in one operation, which is also performed under a microscope.
There are several options. If the ear bones have collapsed, then prostheses are placed, if two of the three are preserved, then they are interposed, replacing the missing segment with the bone of the patient himself. During the last stage, the eardrum is restored, as it is usually also affected.
How quickly is the hearing restored to the patient?
It is important to realize that after the illness, the hearing will no longer be ideal, but it will certainly be an improvement. In this operation, the main task is to stop the spread of infection and cure the pathology, as unoperated cholesteatoma can lead to death.
3. Microsurgery for otosclerosis
Otosclerosis is a disease associated with pathological bone remodulation. Usually, the growth is found on the very last ear bone, the stapes, in the place where it comes into contact with the inner ear. In case of otosclerosis, the stapes is fixed with bone tissue, becomes immobile, which causes hearing loss. By the way, women suffer more from this pathology. Although it is often congenital, it often manifests only after childbirth.
There is another link that points to this disease – it is more likely that the person will suffer from otosclerosis if the person has been infected with measles in the past.
How is the operation performed?
The operation is performed under a microscope, the doctor pulls out a part of the fixed bone, makes a hole in the base of the stape, inserts the prosthesis and fixes it on the anvil. Unlike the other two cases, hearing is restored instantly.
Unfortunately, the treatment is often symptomatic, and it helps to improve hearing only temporarily. But there are cases when the progression of the disease after surgery slows down. And sometimes it stops altogether.
The operation can be done under general anaesthesia or under local anaesthesia. It all depends on the wishes of the patient and the experience of the doctor. But you should know that under local anaesthesia it is more difficult to carry out the operation: the patient may experience dizziness during the manipulations.
How is the post-operative period?
After this operation, you need to stay in the clinic for a day. But after going home, the patient can return to their usual life in a few days.
It should be noted that all three operations are initially medical, aimed at eliminating pathologies of the middle ear. Therefore, auditory functions are restored in different ways. If a person has lived without hearing for a long time and has not done anything about it, then there is a chance that their hearing centre has atrophied. And in this case hearing is harder to restore. Therefore, it is better to consult a doctor as soon as you notice the first changes.