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How the Ear, Nose, and Throat are Connected
The ears, nose, and throat are all connected, which means that if you’re having issues with one, the other two body parts might be affected too.
Some doctors specialize in ear, nose, and throat (ENT) health, and they help patients who deal with any of these health conditions that may arise.
Here are some facts to help you better understand the ears, nose, and throat, as well as how they work together. There are also common health concerns associated with the upper respiratory system that can affect the ears, nose, and throat.
Understanding the Ears, Nose, & Throat
The ears, nose, and throat are part of the upper respiratory system. To better understand how the ear, nose, and throat are connected and how they work together, here are the functions of each one.1
- External or outer ear. This part of the ear contains the auditory canal, which connects the outer ear to the inner ear.
- Tympanic membrane. The tympanic membrane is commonly referred to as the eardrum.
- Middle ear. The middle ear consists of the ossicles, which are three small bones that help transmit sound waves to the inner ear. The Eustachian tube is also located in the middle ear, which is the canal that links the middle ear to the back of the nose and helps equalize pressure. This tube is lined with mucous, just like the nose and throat.3
- Inner ear. The innermost part of the ear contains the cochlea, which contains nerves for hearing, as well as the vestibule and semicircular canals, both of which have receptors for balance.4
The nose is the organ of smell and also part of your peripheral nervous system.2
The different parts of the nose include:
- External nose. This is the physical part of the nose we see on the face.
- Septum. The septum includes cartilage and bones that are covered by mucous membranes. The septum supports the external nose.
- Nasal passages. Nasal passages are lined with mucous and tiny hairs to help filter the air that’s breathed in.5
The throat consists of three major parts.2
- Larynx. The larynx is where the vocal cords are, which plays a role in speech and breathing. It also acts as a passageway to the trachea.
- Epiglottis. The epiglottis is above the larynx and pushes food into the esophagus to keep food from entering the windpipe.6
- Tonsils and adenoids. Both tonsils and adenoids are located at the back of the mouth and are made of lymph tissue. They work to protect you against infection, but their efficiency diminishes with age.
How the Ears, Nose, & Throat Work Together
The ears, nose, and throat are all connected and work together in many ways. To start, the throat connects the mouth to the nose. The throat also connects the lungs to the esophagus.
The Eustachian tubes in the ears drain fluid into the throat. These tubes normally work effectively and help in cases such as a common cold. However, sometimes children’s Eustachian tubes do not develop completely, which causes the tubes to not drain effectively.7
The ears are also connected to the nose by the Eustachian tubes, which drains from the ears into the nasopharynx. The nasopharynx is a passageway between the upper throat and nasal cavity.7
Common Ear, Nose, & Throat Concerns
Here are some of the most common ear, nose, and throat concerns.
Ear infections are the most common ENT problem. Ear infections occur when germs and bacteria become trapped inside the middle ear.
The Eustachian tube, a canal in the ear that drains into the throat, usually keeps germs out. However, if the tube becomes swollen or clogged by fluid, bacteria can enter the ear and cause an infection.
Signs of an ear infection include pain, fever, difficulty hearing, nausea, and loss of balance. Ear infections are most common in children.8
Strep throat is an infection of the throat and tonsils. The infection is caused by bacteria called group A Streptococcus (group A strep).9
Symptoms of strep throat include sore throat, pain when swallowing, fever, swollen tonsils, and swollen lymph nodes. Strep throat can cause ear pain and lead to an ear infection because the throat is connected to the middle ear by the Eustachian tubes.10
Allergies can be caused by many factors including pollen, medications, food, and pets. Common symptoms may include stuffy nose, coughing, sneezing, and headache.
Millions of people in the U.S. suffer from sinus infections.11 Sinus infections are caused when fluid builds up in the sinuses, which causes bacteria to grow.12
Seasonal allergies, growths on the nose lining, and blocked drainage ducts can all cause a sinus infection. Some of the symptoms of a sinus infection include a headache, stuffy nose, and coughing.
Vertigo is a sensation that will cause you to feel dizzy, off-balance, and nauseated. It makes you feel like the environment around you is spinning. Numerous conditions can cause vertigo, with multiple of those being ear-related.13
Meniere’s disease causes fluid to build up in the ear, which can lead to vertigo attacks. Other conditions that cause inflammation in the ear can also lead to vertigo.
Because the inner ear plays a part in the body maintaining balance, if the inner ear is affected, signals to the brain may be incorrect and cause balance and coordination issues.
Learn more today about how your ear, nose, and throat are connected, and how one can affect the other. If you experience any symptoms or conditions mentioned above, talk with your doctor or an ENT professional.
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Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.
- “A Look at Your Ears, Nose, and Throat.” Everyday Health, everydayhealth.com. Accessed May 20th, 2022. https://www.everydayhealth.com/ears-nose-throat-pictures/common-ears-nose-throat-complaints.aspx.
- “Ear, Nose and Throat Facts.” The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System, hopkinsmedicine.org. Accessed May 20th, 2022. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/ear-nose-and-throat-facts.
- “Anatomy and Physiology of the Ear.” University of Rochester Medical Center, urmc.rochester.edu. Accessed May 23rd, 2022. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=90&ContentID=P02025.
- “How Our Hearing Works.” Saber Healthcare Group, saberhealth.com. May 3rd, 2022. Accessed May 24th, 2022. https://www.saberhealth.com/news/blog/how-our-hearing-works.
- “Nose.” Cleveland Clinic, clevelandclinic.org. September 7th, 2021. Accessed May 23rd, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/body/21778-nose.
- “Throat Anatomy and Physiology.” The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, chop.edu. Accessed May 23rd, 2022. https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/throat-anatomy-and-physiology.
- “How Your Ears, Nose, and Throat are Connected.” Allergy & ENT Associates, aentassociates.com. Accessed May 23rd, 2022. https://www.aentassociates.com/how-your-ears-nose-and-throat-are-connected/#:~:text=The%20ears%2C%20at%20roughly%20the,to%20nose%20and%20vice%20versa.
- Hayes, Kristin. “4 Common Ear, Nose and Throat Problems.” Dotdash Media, verywellhealth.com. October 7th, 2021. Accessed May 20th, 2022. https://www.verywellhealth.com/symptoms-of-ent-disorders-1191842.
- “Strep Throat: All You Need to Know.” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. January 14th, 2022. Accessed May 20th, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/strep-throat.html.
- “The Relation between Tonsillitis, Ear Infections, and Strep.” Northeast Atlanta Ear Nose & Throat, PC, northeastatlantaent.com. Accessed May 23rd, 2022. https://northeastatlantaent.com/the-relation-between-tonsillitis-ear-infections-and-strep/#:~:text=Strep%20Throat%20is%20an%20infection,also%20lead%20to%20ear%20infections.
- “The Most Common ENT Problems.” Allergy & ENT Associates, aentassociates.com. Accessed May 23rd, 2022. https://www.aentassociates.com/the-most-common-ent-problems/.
- “Sinus Infection (Sinusitis): Causes & Symptoms.” Saber Healthcare Group, saberhealth.com. January 14th, 2022. Accessed May 23rd, 2022. https://www.saberhealth.com/news/blog/sinus-infection-symptoms.
- “Vertigo.” Cleveland Clinic, clevelandclinic.org. September 9th, 2021. Accessed May 23rd, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21769-vertigo.