The Great Ear Saga of 2015

Melodramatic title? Probably. But this ear thing has been crazy, so it feels appropriate right now.

This ear saga started just before my birthday, March 2015… but of course, we didn’t realize that it would turn into a saga. I woke up March 10th with the telltale pain in my ear signaling an outer ear infection (commonly referred to as swimmer’s ear), so I went to urgent care as soon as I got dressed. This was my 6th or 7th ear infection since moving to Colorado, so I knew for sure it was an infection. I just needed to make sure I didn’t have an internal one as well, and get a prescription for antibiotic drops. The urgent care doc, seeing that I’d just been in the previous May for another ear infection, referred me to an ENT (ear nose throat doc) to find out why I keep getting ear infections…

Anatomy of the Ear

I got myself on the ENT’s calendar and did the drops prescribed by urgent care. On my first visit to the ENT (Dr R), my ear infection hadn’t cleared up. He had to suction out my ear, which is painful and it pulled a ton of really gross stuff out, and determined it hadn’t cleared up because there was gunk blocking the drops from getting to the infection’s source. So, another week of drops. It still didn’t clear up, probably because it had clogged itself up again the next day. More suctioning, more drops. Still didn’t clear up. More suctioning. This time, he extended the length of the drops to two weeks. It seemed to clear up, but only for about a week… so back to Dr R, more suctioning, more drops, and an oral antibiotic to try to attack it from more than one angle. I lost track of the amount of visits to Dr R for my ear. But Dan and I had been doing drops almost constantly since the middle of March.

I had a follow-up for allergy testing that Dr R had wanted to do (my ears are always itchy, so we think I keep getting infections from scratching them). When I was there for the follow-up, he took a look in my ear, cleared it back out, and then said some words that I really hate having specialists say: “I’m not sure what that is now.” Apparently, my ear was still producing tons of gunk, but it no longer looked like an infection. Wonderful. This follow-up with Dr R was June 3rd (yes, it had been that long). Dr R decided that I needed to see an otologist that he knows. An ENT goes through med school, then has specialty training for the ears, nose, and throat… an otologist does everything an ENT does, and then gets even more education and training in ears.

My first appointment with the otologist, Dr K, was on June 11. Before you see the doc, they do hearing tests. Those turned out kind of normal. My right ear was textbook normal (thankfully). My left ear, however, was just barely in the range of normal. The first thing Dr K does, after hearing what I’ve told him, is looks in my ear. He cleans it out (with little hooks and such). While he’s cleaning it, he’s not really saying anything, which is fine by me because I wouldn’t have heard him anyway because it HURT!!!! When he’s done, he sits me back up and says, “Has anyone ever told you you have a hole in your eardrum?” … what? No, of course they haven’t.

Torn Eardrum

This is NOT what mine looks like. It isn’t torn…

Hole in Eardrum

This is what the holes look like

But then I tell him about the Sunday before my visit with him. Dan had been putting Ciprodex drops in my ear twice a day. On Sunday morning, the drops just felt like they always had. On Sunday night, however, there was pain. Almost as soon as the drops went in my ear, there was a burning, searing pain all the way to my jaw, and then I get a horrendous taste in my mouth. Apparently, sometime on Sunday, the holes had formed. I hadn’t put anything into my ear, so I didn’t tear it. Dr K seemed puzzled, and then showed me the holes. They aren’t small, taking up a rather significant portion of my eardrum… He asked if I’d ever been exposed to tuberculosis, because apparently holes like the ones in my ear are a sign of it. Very weird. To my knowledge, I have never been exposed to tuberculosis… but I’m beginning to suspect I should get a TB test to be sure.

After discovering the holes, he gives me a different ear drop to use. Technically, it’s an eye drop, but he said it should be more gentle when it goes through my eardrum. We use the new drops, and thankfully, they don’t hurt. They just feel odd and taste bad. We forgot if he said a week, ten days, or two weeks, but since my ear wasn’t really feeling much better, we decided to err on the side of caution and did them for the two weeks prior to my follow-up. During my follow-up, Dr K informs me that, since I’d been on the same antibiotic since March 10, I now have a yeast infection in my ear. Lovely. He also informs Dan and me that I am going to need surgery to close the holes sometime after the infection clears up. He sends me home with an anti-fungal ear drop to kill the yeast.

We did the drops, but when Dan takes a look in my ear now, he says that there is still goo in there. Hopefully, it’s just earwax or something benign. I researched the eardrum surgery, and it can take 4-6 weeks to recover from. With all of my other health issues, I am sure it will be more like the 6 weeks, or possibly longer. Luckily, my mom said she will come out here to give us a hand while I’m recovering. Our last visit we’d asked Dr K when he thought the surgery might be if the infection was cleared up by today. He’d said that he is booking out about a month right now. If I can’t have surgery until the beginning of August, I’m going to have to try to recover while starting my semester. This is going to get exciting!

My appointment is in about 2 hours, so we’ll see what he says! Keep your fingers crossed for me!

keep calm fingers crossed

More posts from the Great Ear Saga

Bawling Bean

Stay on the Drops

Cutting in Time for School

Surgery Jitters

The PreOp Highlights

Class, Surgery, Life, Anxiety

Dan’s Post-Surgery Update

Quick Ear Update

PostOp Physical Therapy

My Post-Surgery Update

Pain Killers, Exhaustion, Life

October: PostOp and Life

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