Ear Infections

Otitis media (ear infection) is an infection or inflammation of the middle ear. This inflammation often begins with infections that cause sore throats, colds, or other respiratory or breathing problems spread to the middle ear. These can be viral or bacterial infections.

Although otitis media is primarily a disease of infants and young children, it can also affect adults.

Ear Infections in Children

  • Seventy-five percent of children experience at least one episode of otitis media by their third birthday.
  • Almost half of these children will have three or more ear infections during their first 3 years.

One factor that makes children more susceptible to otitis media is that adenoids in children are larger than they are in adults (see enlarged adenoids). Adenoids are composed largely of cells (lymphocytes) that help fight infections. They are positioned in the back of the upper part of the throat near the eustachian tubes. Enlarged adenoids can, because of their size, interfere with the eustachian tube opening. In addition, adenoids may themselves become infected, and the infection may spread into the eustachian tubes.

Common Symptoms of Ear Infections

  • Unusual Irritability

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Tugging or pulling at one or both ears

  • Fever

  • Fluid draining from the ear

  • Loss of balance

  • Unresponsiveness to quiet sounds or other signs of hearing difficulty, such as sitting too close to the television, or being inattentive.

Treatment Options For Ear Infections

Adenoidectomy

An adenoidectomy may be recommended for patients with enlarged adenoids (see “symptoms of enlarged adenoids”), those forced to breath through mouth, or snoring.

Mastoidectomy

Located behind the ear, the mastoid bone connects to the middle ear and contains many air-filled spaces when healthy. Ear infections or disease in the ear or elsewhere can cause those spaces to fill with fluid, mucus or excess tissue (such as a cholesteatoma, a benign tumor that may grow out of a healing perforated ear drum and cause hearing damage).

When medications and other non-surgical treatments such as antibiotics or professional cleaning fail to resolve the problem, mastoidectomy – surgical drainage – may be performed.

Complications from surgery are rare but may include drainage from the ear, infection, temporary dizziness or loss of taste on one side of the tongue, hearing loss and, rarely, nerve injury to the side of the face operated upon.

Myringotomy/Tympanoplasty

A tympanoplasty may be recommended for chronic ear infections and/or symptoms of hearing loss.

Myringotomy with the insertion of ear tubes is an optional treatment for inflammation of the middle ear. During a myringotomy, an incision is made into the ear drum, or tympanic membrane. The fluid in the ear canal is suctioned out, and a small tube is put in place to allow future drainage in the event of an infection.

Myringotomy is the most frequently performed ear operation and the second-most common surgical procedure in children younger than two. It is performed to drain fluid from the ear, restore lost hearing, relieve pain and prevent infections. During a myringotomy, an opening is made in the eardrum to drain excess fluid. The surgeon may then insert a tube that will remain in place for a few months. After surgery, drainage should stop and the hole in the eardrum should heal on its own. However, a small percentage of patients require a second procedure.