Ear infections, a fairly common occurrence in infants, are caused when there is an inflammation of the middle ear which is the cavity behind the ear drum. When an ear infection does not heal in time or if the infection continues to reoccur (recurring), it is said to have become chronic. Chronic ear infections are called chronic otitis media.
What causes Chronic Ear Infections
The middle ear produces secretions which usually drain out through the eustachian tube to the throat. The eustachian tube is also critical for maintaining airflow through the ear and equalizing air pressure, which is essential for balance. When the fluids don’t drain properly, the bacteria present in the fluid gives rise to an infection.
Children are more likely to suffer from ear infections because the tubes are smaller and at a similar horizontal level hampering drainage, most often when the tubes are swollen or blocked with mucus from other illnesses like the flu. The ear infections typically occur with regularity in children under the age of 3 years.
Treatment of Chronic Ear Infections In Children
Doctors today usually have a wait-and-watch approach towards ear infections in infants with symptomatic relief since the infection often clears up on its own. When this condition continues, specific treatment for the infection needs to be undertaken.
For treating chronic infections, the doctor may prescribe a course of antibiotics. When the infection fails to responds to the antibiotics, fluid builds up in the middle ear remains for longer time or hearing loss begins , a minor surgical procedure (Myringotomy)is advised.
Myringotomy the surgery is especially recommended for infants since having persistent fluid in the ear might impact their hearing and speech development.
Under this surgery, a small ventilation tube or grommet, made of metal, plastic or Teflon, is placed in the eardrum to help drain the fluid. The tube releases pressure and acts as a vent until the eustachian tube returns to normal functioning.
Myringotomy is simple, low risk and takes less than half an hour. The surgeon makes a small incision in the eardrum, drains the liquid and then places tiny tube connecting the middle ear and the outer ear. The surgery is usually done in both ears and is called bilateral myringotomy.
The surgery significantly reduces the pain, the severity of symptoms experienced, and over time reduces the infection and its reoccurrence. Any loss in hearing is often restored. The tubes, which are invisible, stay for six to nine months and usually fall out by themselves. At times, the infection reappears in which case the procedure would need to be repeated.
If left untreated for long, chronic ear infection may, in addition to causing hearing loss, also affect other areas of the ear such as the small bones in the middle ear or the eardrum itself. Surgical procedures are also needed in these cases to repair them.