Chronic Ear Infections

Chronic ear infections refer to both an ear infection that does not heal or to recurring ear infections. A chronic ear infection affects the middle ear (otitis media) and develops when fluid or an infection behind the eardrum does not go away.

What Causes an Ear Infection?

With an ear infection, the Eustachian tube, a tube that normally drains fluid from the middle ear, becomes plugged and infected. This buildup of fluid presses on the eardrum, causing pain. Eustachian tubes in children are smaller and more horizontal, so they can become plugged more easily. This is why ear infections occur more commonly in children.

What Is The Eustachian Tube?

The eustachian tube is the canal that links the middle ear with the throat. This tube allows air into the middle ear and drainage of fluid.

What Causes The Eustachian Tube To Not Work Properly?

The Eustachian tube may not work properly due to

● Viral illness
● Exposure to allergens or tobacco smoke (leads to swelling of the Eustachian tube resulting in fluid build up in the middle ear)
● Poor eustachian tube function (often the result for children with a cleft palate and craniofacial syndromes like Down’s Syndrome)

What Are Symptoms of A Chronic Ear Infection?

A chronic ear infection can cause milder symptoms than an acute ear infection.
Symptoms may affect one or both ears and may be constant or come and go. Signs include:

● A feeling of pressure in the ear
● Mild ear pain
● Fluid draining from ears
● Low fever
● Hearing loss
● Trouble sleeping

How Are Chronic Ear Infections Treated?

Treatment options for recurring ear infections may either be surgery or antibiotic treatment. We follow established guidelines to determine which patients should be considered for surgery, and which patients can continue to receive antibiotics for their infections.

What Type of Surgery is Done for Chronic Ear Infections?

A myringotomy is a procedure in which your doctor creates a small hole in the eardrum so fluids such as water, blood, or pus can drain out. In many cases, your doctor will put in tympanostomy tubes, known as ear tubes or PE tubes, so the eardrum won’t get backed up again. Before surgery, the doctor will conduct a thorough examination and order a hearing test to determine if your child has a hearing loss. After surgery, your child will undergo another hearing test to determine if his or her hearing has improved. Follow up care is also provided to manage children for the length of time they have ear tubes to make sure they remain free of ear infections and complications.

How Will Ear Tubes Help Your Child?

In placing the tubes in your child’s ear(s), they
● Allow air to re-enter middle ear space
● Reduce the number and severity of infections
● Improve hearing loss caused by middle ear fluid

How Long Do Ear Tubes Stay in Place?

Tubes usually fall out of the ear in 6 months to 2 years. If they remain in longer than 2 to 3 years, they are sometimes removed.

What Happens If Chronic Ear Infections Are Left Untreated?

If chronic ear infections are left untreated, it may result in hearing loss. If hearing loss affects both ears, the damage to the middle ear may slow language and speech development. While permanent hearing loss is rare, the risk increases with the number and length of infections.

Besides hearing loss, other complications such as a ruptured eardrum may occur if chronic ear infections are left untreated.

How Can You Prevent Chronic Ear Infections?

There are several things you can do to prevent your child from getting chronic ear infections including

● Vaccinate your child against the flu.
● Keep your child away from sick children.
● Wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of germs.
● Avoid exposing your baby to cigarette smoke.
● Seek prompt treatment for an acute ear infection.
● Request follow-up exams with your provider after an ear infection has been treated to make sure that the infection is completely cured.

If your child is having symptoms of an acute ear infection (e.g., ear pain, fever, and trouble hearing) or has had issues with chronic ear infections, call ENT of Parker at (303) 840-9690 to schedule an appointment for evaluation and treatment.