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Complications of Ear Infections


Topic Overview

Complications from ear infections are rare, but they can arise. Some problems that can occur include:

  • Trouble hearing. Hearing problems are usually mild to moderate and are usually temporary. Long-lasting hearing loss is rare. However, some children may have problems learning to talk and to understand speech if they have repeat ear infections.1
  • Rupture of the eardrum. If fluid continues to build up in the middle ear, the eardrum may burst. This leaves a small hole that often heals within 2 weeks.

Another complication of acute ear infections is ongoing inflammation of the middle ear, a condition called chronic suppurative otitis media. The major symptom of this condition is repeat or ongoing drainage of pus from the ear through a small hole in the eardrum. Many children with chronic suppurative otitis media have some hearing loss. Experts don't know exactly why this condition develops, though poor hygiene and nutrition may contribute to it.2 Antibiotic therapy is the usual treatment for this condition.

The following complications may also develop if there are repeat ear infections:

  • Tissue growth behind the eardrum (cholesteatoma). If the tissue grows large enough, it can block the middle ear and affect hearing. Surgery is necessary to remove the growth.
  • Damage to the tiny bones in the middle ear

Rare complications include infection in the:

  • Bone that is located behind the ear (mastoiditis).
  • Tissues surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis).

While these problems are rare, they are becoming even more rare. This is due in part to vaccines that prevent some illnesses that can lead to ear infections.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. Williamson I (2008). OME in children, search date March 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.

  2. Acuin J (2007). Chronic suppurative otitis media, search date January 2007. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence: http://www.clinicalevidence.com.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical ReviewerCharles M. Myer, III, MD - Otolaryngology
Last RevisedJanuary 13, 2011

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