Ear Infections: Treatment Options

Oti­tis Media, also known as an ear infec­tion, is one of the most com­mon con­di­tions for which chil­dren require med­ical treat­ment. This con­di­tion also affects adults, but to a much less­er degree.

An ear infec­tion is com­mon in young chil­dren, occur­ring in approx­i­mate­ly 80% of all chil­dren. Ear infec­tions are gen­er­al­ly a bac­te­r­i­al infec­tion, which often requires antibi­ot­ic treat­ment. Most infec­tions are suc­cess­ful­ly treat­ed with antibi­otics. The infec­tion com­mon­ly occurs after a child expe­ri­ences a cold or flu. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, when ear infec­tions occurs too often or when antibi­otics fail, hear­ing loss can occur, as well as speech and lan­guage delays. These prob­lems often can impair a child’s learn­ing abil­i­ty and cause devel­op­men­tal delays.

For­tu­nate­ly, most ear infec­tions can be suc­cess­ful­ly diag­nosed and treat­ed effec­tive­ly while reduc­ing the chances for com­pli­ca­tions and long-term hear­ing damage.

Although seri­ous com­pli­ca­tions such as mas­toidi­tis (infec­tion of the bone that hous­es the ear struc­tures) and menin­gi­tis occur rarely, it is impor­tant that oti­tis media be treat­ed thor­ough­ly to pre­vent oth­er complications.

Treat­ment Options

Med­ical treat­ments of ear infec­tions include dif­fer­ent kinds of antibi­otics for vary­ing lengths of time. When infec­tions become prob­lem­at­ic or recur too often, chil­dren may be referred to a spe­cial­ist known as an oto­laryn­gol­o­gist. Eval­u­a­tion of your child should include an accu­rate hear­ing test, called an audio­gram, per­formed by a cer­ti­fied audi­ol­o­gist. Hear­ing can be test­ed in chil­dren of any age, using a num­ber of advanced tech­niques and equipment.

PE Tubes

When ear infec­tions occur too fre­quent­ly or are nev­er com­plete­ly resolved, we may rec­om­mend the place­ment of ven­ti­lat­ing tubes in chil­dren. Ven­ti­lat­ing tubes, often known as PE tubes (pres­sure-equal­iza­tion), are placed in chil­dren under a brief gen­er­al anes­thet­ic. The tubes usu­al­ly fall out by them­selves with­in a year or two and require rou­tine check-ups to ensure prop­er function.

After Surgery

Pain if any, is usu­al­ly con­trolled with Tylenol™.

Top­i­cal antibi­ot­ic ear drops, if need­ed, will be pre­scribed dur­ing the first week after surgery. Bathing gen­er­al­ly does not require earplugs. Your sur­geon will instruct you specif­i­cal­ly if you should take any precautions.

A post­op­er­a­tive vis­it should be sched­uled with­in 10 – 14 days with your surgeon.

Long-term Care of Tubes

Swim­ming in fresh­wa­ter (lakes, ponds or oceans) should be avoid­ed because of high­er con­cen­tra­tions of bac­te­ria. Earplugs should be used and can be cus­tom-fit by our audiologists.

Reg­u­lar 6‑month physi­cian exam­i­na­tions are nec­es­sary to ensure that no prob­lems or com­pli­ca­tions occur with tubes.

Is surgery safe?

Surgery itself is very safe and has been used for over forty years. Anes­the­sia is also very safe. Prob­lems with anes­the­sia are extreme­ly rare in healthy chil­dren. The risk from anes­the­sia and surgery is report­ed to be less than 1:100,000 patients — more rare than being struck by light­ning or win­ning the lottery.

Is there any pain after tubes?

Vir­tu­al­ly no pain is expe­ri­enced after the pro­ce­dure. Chil­dren can be fussy after surgery, but often do not need any pain medicine.

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