EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“I have been very dizzy recently and my GP tells me I have a middle ear infection – how is my ear related to dizziness? "

The ear has lots of different functions. Of course the one we are most familiar with is hearing. The ear is made of three main parts, the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Each has its own functions.

The outer ear is the bit that we can see. It is designed to collect sounds and direct them into the ear canal. At the end of the ear canal is the ear drum (also known as the tympanic membrane). Sound is just changes in air pressure and the thin ear drum moves backwards and forwards in response to these changes in air pressure. However, on the other side of the ear drum are three tiny bones (known as the anvil, the stirrup and the stapes – the smallest bones in the body). These bones are attached to another membrane in the inner ear. The inner ear is a fluid filled structure made of two parts. The first part looks like a snail shell and is called the cochlea. This is responsible for the detection of these pressure waves – transmitted from the air, onto the ear drum, through the small bones in the ear to the fluid filled cochlea. The small fluid shifts caused by the pressure changes move tiny hairs in the cochlea that trigger nerve signals that are sent to the brain and are interpreted as sounds.

The second part of the inner ear is to do with balance. There are 3 semi-circular canals set at right angles to each other – the vestibular system. These are also filled with fluid. There are hairs attached to the insides of the semi-circular canals. When the head is moved, the fluids causes the hairs to also move and this triggers a nerve signal to the brain, where we can then work out which direction we are moving in.

Occasionally, if we get an infection – often a virus, then the nerves that allow us to detect movement can be affected and start sending abnormal signals to the brain making us think that we are moving, when we are not. This can make us feel quite dizzy and sick. There are many other reasons for feeling dizzy, and if the feeling persists, or you feel very nauseated then your GP or pharmacist may be able to suggest and medication to help.

For more information about Dizziness click this link: