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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. But some children may have problems learning to talk and to understand speech if they have repeat ear infections.
  • 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. 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).

These problems are rare, and they are becoming even more rare.

Credits

Current as of: July 17, 2020

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
John Pope MD - Pediatrics

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