Thyroid ear problems are usually diagnosed when a lump on the neck accompanies an earache or upper respiratory infection. Some benign thyroid cysts develop before birth, but do not become problematic until after age 40. Thyroid ear problems may be bacterial or the result of a virus, or they may result from a type of thyroid cancer.
Dizziness is a symptom used to diagnose ear problems. Merck explains dizziness and vertigo in terms of the inner ear, the 8th cranial nerve and the brain stem and cerebellum. Balance is an incorporation of visual input interpreted by the brain stem and cerebellum projected onto the cerebral cortex, the outside of the brain, into a perception of motion. Doctors can diagnose the origin or location of the ear problem by the source of the dizziness symptom.
The NIH explains that thyroid ear problems are a result of the functioning of the hypothalamus in the brain, the pituitary gland, the thyroid itself or the body’s resistance to thyroid hormones with different sensitivity to thyroid hormones in different organs of the body.
Thyroid cysts enlarge temporarily as a result of an ear infection. Ninety percent of thyroid cysts, as explained by Baylor College of Medicine, are sinus cysts lined with squamous (cancerous) epithelium filled with viscid yellow fluid with cholesterol crystals. The sinus and thyroid structure develop in uterine. Thirty to forty percent of these cysts are discovered when the patient is examined for an earache or upper respiratory infection and the inflammation of the cyst may be caused by bacteria, a virus or multiple types of thyroid cancer.
Thyroid cysts are close to the auditory canal. The auditory canal develops in uterine from the parotid gland next to the thyroid. The cyst compromising the auditory canal causes problems with hearing, balance and sensations or sounds.
The Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Association explains that whether the thyroid cyst is benign or malignant, it can compress the windpipe, causing difficultly breathing, or the esophagus or food pipe, making it impossible for the patient to swallow. The doctor who may feel a thyroid tumor sends the patient to an endocrinologist or an oncologist to determine whether the tumor is malignant or benign. The oncologist or endocrinologist uses a fine or small-gauged needle to remove a cylindrical section of the tumor for a pathologist to examine.
The surgeon evaluates the patient to determine if the tumor can be safely biopsied. Non-malignant thyroid tumors can be removed surgically, according to the Mayo Clinic and The Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Association.
Surgical removal of malignant tumors is not usually possible as it is unlikely that it can be completely removed and it is more dangerous if it ruptures. The cancer has probably spread to other parts of the body if it is malignant, and the prognosis is not good.
The Thyroid Cancer Survivors' Association details anaplastic thyroid carcinoma (ATC), which accounts for 1 percent of thyroid ear problems in sufferers over age 60 years. ATC is an extremely aggressive thyroid cancer which spreads to other parts of the body rapidly. Symptoms are chronic earaches, enlarging lower neck mass, hoarse changing voice, cough with blood, difficulty swallowing and loud breathing.
Thyroid function tests are usually normal in ATC. About 300 new cases of ATC are diagnosed in the US every year. ATC is usually fatal within 12 months of discovery.