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Fluid behind eardrum needs draining

Peter Gott United Media

Dear Dr. Gott: During an upper respiratory infection three months ago, I blew my nose too hard and experienced an immediate loss of hearing in my left ear. I was examined by an otolaryngologist who said I had fluid behind the eardrum, prescribed antibiotics and scheduled me for an office appointment.

Even after the therapy with antibiotics and nose sprays, I am still deaf. My nerves are shot. The doctor advises surgery for what he calls “serious otitis,” but, at 75, I refuse. I know that children often require ear tubes, but I’d like to avoid that if possible. What’s your opinion?

Dear Reader: First, let me clarify the issue. Your initial nose-blowing forced some infection and mucus through the left eustachian tube (which vents the ear) into the middle-ear chamber, a closed space inside the eardrum where the bones of hearing are located. This resulted in a buildup of fluid behind the drum that has caused deafness in the left ear.

You misunderstood your specialist. I believe that he diagnosed “serous” (fluid behind the drum) not “serious” otitis (ear infection). Of course, the situation was, to you, annoying but completely treatable. However, a course of antibiotics and sprays failed to relieve the problem.

The next logical step to relieve your malady is minor surgery: the placement of a pressure-equalizing (PE) tube through the eardrum into the middle ear. This will not only permit an equalization of pressure (not possible in your present situation), but will also allow the abnormal fluid to escape. Unless I miss my guess, this procedure should return your hearing to normal, with very little risk.

I acknowledge that most people of any age would choose to avoid invasive procedures whenever possible, so I understand your concern. However, I believe that the risks of PE tube placement are outweighed by the potential advantages.

Your other option is to wait out the situation. Over several months, the deafness should subside as the body absorbs the ear fluid. If you’re patient, fine. Otherwise, follow the ear-nose-and-throat doctor’s advice.

To give you related information, I am sending you a copy of my Health Report “Ear Infections and Disorders.” Other readers who would like a copy should send a long, self-addressed, stamped envelope and $2 to Newsletter, P.O. Box 167, Wickliffe, OH 44092. Be sure to mention the title.

Dear Dr. Gott: You have written that undiluted hydrogen peroxide is a method of keeping the ears free of wax. Are there any dangers to the practice? How often should I do it?

Dear Reader: Hydrogen peroxide, when used to clean ears, is completely safe. How often to use it depends on how frequently you have problems with earwax. Most people start with once a week and then, depending on results, reduce the frequency to once a month or less.

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