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Link found between schizophrenia and middle-ear disease

The theory that ear disease can cause mental illness by irritating the brain dates back to the 1890s and the ear's proximity to the brain has been of particular importance.  Less attention has been paid to the hypothesis that an ear infection can cause irritation to the overlying brain.

In a study published this month in the British Journal of Psychiatry, a case group of 84 patients with schizophrenia were each matched with four non-psychiatric controls, all of whom had a history of ear disease.

The results showed that the rate of middle-ear disease pre-dating the onset of schizophrenia was higher in the case group than the control group. Auditory hallucinations were also found to be significantly associated with middle-ear disease pre-dating schizophrenia.

The study concludes that middle-ear disease may be a factor that increases a person's vulnerability to developing schizophrenia. The odds of this are even greater if the person experiences left-sided middle-ear disease as opposed to right-sided.

Royal College of Psychiatrists