How to Diagnose Sinus & Inner Ear Problems

Sinus and inner ear problems are some of the most common health conditions in Americans, according to the book "Otolaryngology--Head and Neck Surgery" by Byron Bailey. Infections commonly cause ear problems, which most often present as pain in the ears. Sinus problems are usually due to infections or nasal allergies. Ear problems and sinus problems are often related, as congestion caused by sinus problems can lead to fluid build-up in the ears.

A doctor examining a child's inner ear. (Image: wavebreakmedia/iStock/Getty Images)

Step 1

Ask the patient about symptoms. According to the book "Surgery" by Josef Fischer, the first step in diagnosing any health condition is obtaining a good history of the symptoms and the patient's general health. Physicians must ask about how and when the inner ear and sinus problems started, how the symptoms have changed over time and if the patient has experiences similar problems in the past.

Step 2

Perform a general physical examination. Physical exam findings away from the ear or the sinuses may give clues to the causes of problems in the inner ears or sinuses. For example, a fever can indicate that the cause of an ear or sinus problem is likely infectious.

Step 3

Examine the ears. When examining the ears, a physician must look around and behind the ears, thoroughly examine the ear canals with an otoscope and get a good look at the ear drum.

Step 4

Examine the nose and sinuses. Use a nasal speculum to open the nasal cavity and then use a flashlight or a light source to look inside the nose. Examine the nasal cavity for signs of swelling or infection that may indicate sinus problems. According to, the entrance to the maxillary sinus, the largest of the sinuses, may be visible just by looking through a nasal speculum.

Step 5

Obtain CT scans of the nose and sinuses can help diagnose sinus problems and CT scans of the temporal bone, the bone that surrounds the ear, can help diagnose inner ear problems.

Things You'll Need

  • Nasal speculum

  • Otoscope

  • Flashlight

  • CT scanner

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