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Ear Exam

Recurrent Otitis Media

Recurrent Otitis Media

EAR INFECTIONS

Recurrent otitis media, often referred to as recurrent ear infections, is a condition characterized by multiple episodes of middle ear infections within a relatively short period.

Causes

The exact cause of recurrent otitis media is unknown, but it is thought to be related to a number of factors, including:

  • Eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD). ETD is a condition in which the Eustachian tube does not open and close properly. This can lead to a buildup of fluid and mucus in the middle ear, which can increase the risk of infection. Learn more here

  • Enlarged adenoids. The adenoids are two small pads of tissue located at the back of the throat. They help to fight infection. However, enlarged adenoids can block the Eustachian tube and increase the risk of recurrent otitis media (ROM).

  • Allergies. Allergies can cause inflammation and swelling of the Eustachian tube, which can also increase the risk of ROM. Learn more here

  • Daycare attendance. Children who attend daycare are more likely to be exposed to germs that can cause acute otitis media and ROM.

Symptoms

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Symptoms of recurrent otitis media are similar to those of acute ear infections and may include:

  • Ear pain or discomfort

  • Hearing loss or muffled hearing

  • Fluid drainage from the ear

  • Irritability, especially in infants and young children

  • Fever

Frequency

In terms of frequency, recurrent otitis media may range from three infections in six months or four infections in a year. It's more common in young children due to the shorter and more horizontal structure of their Eustachian tubes, making them more prone to fluid accumulation and infections.

Treatment

Treatment approaches can vary, and they often aim to alleviate symptoms, address infection, and prevent complications. The treatment plan may involve a combination of medical interventions and supportive care.

Tympanostomy

If your child is experiencing fluid drainage from their ear and hearing loss, we may consider tympanostomy tubes. These are small plastic or metal tubes that we surgically place into an incision in the eardrum to help drain fluid from the middle ear and prevent infection. They are usually temporary, but we may recommend them for longer if your child is still experiencing symptoms.  

Multi-step Treatment

If your child has a hole in their eardrum and chronic drainage, we often recommend a multi-step treatment plan. We will first clean the ear through suctioning and analyze the infected fluid. Typically, antibiotic drops treat the infection, but oral or intravenous antibiotics may be necessary if the drops are not effective.  

Surgical Treatment

Once the infection is controlled, we will assess repairing the hole in the eardrum. Our team is experienced in these procedures and will help you make the best choice for your child. Repairing the hole in the eardrum often, but not always, improves hearing. 

If you suspect your child is experiencing recurrent ear infections, or if you're concerned about frequent ear infections in yourself, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional, such as an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. They can accurately diagnose the condition, identify potential underlying causes, and recommend appropriate treatment options.

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