Common Middle Ear Problems

Cross section of ear showing outer, inner, and middle ear structures. Color overlay shows areas causing conductive and sensorineural hearing loss.

Your middle ear may have been injured or infected recently. Over time, certain growths or bone disease can also harm the middle ear. Left untreated, middle ear problems often lead to lifelong hearing loss. There are two types of hearing loss: conductive and sensorineural. One or both kinds can occur. Injury, infection, certain growths, or bone disease can cause your symptoms. A ruptured eardrum or a long-lasting (chronic) ear infection may be painful and decrease hearing.


  • Hearing loss in one or both ears

  • Fluid, often smelly, draining from the ear

  • Pain, pressure, or discomfort in the ear

  • Ringing in the ear

Conductive and sensorineural hearing loss

Sound waves may be disrupted before they reach the inner ear. If this happens, conductive hearing loss may occur. The ear canal can be blocked by wax, infection, a tumor, or a foreign object. The eardrum can be injured or infected. Abnormal bone growth, infection, or tumors in the middle ear can block sound waves.

Sound waves may not be processed correctly in the inner ear. If this happens, sensorineural hearing loss may occur. Permanent hearing loss is most commonly associated with sensorineural problems.

The tests and evaluations used to diagnose what type of hearing problem you have will depend on your symptoms.