Many ear infections occur in tandem with a sinus infection. The eustachian tube that allows proper ventilation of the middle ear is at the back of the nose, and swelling around this tube (which often happens during a sinus infection) increases the risk of development of a middle ear infection.
Otitis media is the most common type of ear infection and can impact a person of any age, although it occurs mostly in younger patients. Otitis media is an inflammation of the middle ear tissues and can be caused by bacterial or viral infection. Often, there is accompanying fluid in the middle ear space that can cause additional pain, pressure, and hearing loss. If the infection progresses, it can cause the eardrum to rupture and cause drainage from the ear canal.
Chronic otitis media occurs when an infection has been present for three or more months and has minimal symptoms. This form of infection is commonly paired with speech problems in young children.
Ear Infections Symptoms
Symptoms of otitis media and other ear infections include:
- Ear pain
- Hearing loss
- Balance issues
- Speech problems
Some of the more common complications of otitis media are eardrum scarring, hearing loss, and mastoiditis. More severe symptoms include brain abscess or clotting of nearby intracranial blood vessels, but these are quite rare.
Otitis Media Treatment & Surgery
Most episodes of otitis media are treated successfully with antibiotics. Surgery is reserved for recurrent, severe infections especially if they are chronic in nature or affect the mastoid or nearby vital structures. Sometimes surgical intervention is recommended sooner if a patient has multiple drug allergies, other complicating medical problems, or speech delay.
Surgery for adult patients can be done in office with just a myringotomy (incision in the ear drum), or myringotomy with subsequent ear tube placement. For pediatric patients, ear tube surgery is performed under anesthesia to eliminate the discomfort of the surgery. The surgery usually lasts about 5 minutes with less than one day for recovery. There is usually no ongoing ear pain within 24 hours of the surgery. The tubes are held in place by the eardrum and as it grows it will naturally extrude them in 6-18 months.
Ear tubes are tiny cylinders, often made of plastic, that straddle the eardrum to keep open the myringotomy (incision site). They allow ventilation of the middle ear space and can be used to administer medications.
Even with ear tubes in place, an ear infection is still possible. There is less discomfort and better level of hearing with this type of infection and often it can be treated with antibiotic ear drops.
Complications of Ear Tubes
There are very few complications of having ear tubes as the overall procedure is similar to what occurs when someone accidentally penetrates the eardrum using a Q-tip. Generally the eardrum heals on its own within a short time of tube extrusion. If the hole has not healed, the eardrum may need to be repaired in the future.
The use of ear plugs may be indicated when a patient with ear tubes or an ear drum perforation (hole in the ear drum), has recurring infections because of contaminated water such as from a lake or well, entering the middle ear space through the tube or perforation. The earplug will prevent water from getting into the ears and therefore decrease the risk of developing an infection. At Andros ENT & Sleep Center, we do not recommend earplugs for children 3 years old and under because of the potential risk for choking, ingestion, and the decreased water safety when they are in place.
If you or your child has any of the symptoms of otitis media, contact our office today to set up an appointment.