Infections of the ear are a relatively common problem. They may occur anywhere in the ear including the external canal (otitis externa, commonly called swimmer’s ear), the middle ear (otitis media), the mastoid portion of the skull, or other areas of bone surrounding these structures.
Infections of the middle ear and mastoid are particularly common in childhood following upper respiratory infections. As the name implies, swimmer’s ear is most likely to occur in the summer months or in ears that are chronically wet or irritated, as in people with eczema of the outer ear or external ear canal. Ear infections produce fluid and inflammation within the ear. Older children will often complain about ear pain, ear fullness, or hearing loss. Younger children may demonstrate irritability, fussiness, or difficulty in sleeping, feeding, or hearing. These symptoms are often associated with common cold or respiratory infections. Chronic otitis media may develop when infection persists for more than six weeks.
Chronic Ear Infections
Chronic infections of the middle ear and mastoid may result in significant damage to the hearing and balance mechanisms and facial nerve and at times can spread beyond the ear to surrounding structures including the brain. One common form of this damage is cholesteatoma, a situation in which dead skin and chronic inflammation invade the ear drum into the middle ear, resulting in drum damage and erosion of the middle ear bones, with infected ear drainage, bleeding and conductive hearing loss. If left untreated, the damage can extend to the inner ear, causing sensorineural hearing loss and/or vertigo, or even into the cranial cavity and spinal fluid spaces, leading to meningitis or brain abscess. Fortunately these extreme cases are infrequent.
Chronic ear infections can be a sign of deep-seated infection or trapped skin debris behind the eardrum (cholesteatoma). Our MiniCAT scanner (a CT/CAT scan that creates three-dimensional images of the anatomy of a patient’s head) allows your doctor to see whether this potentially dangerous condition exists and whether any worrisome bone erosion has occurred. Our CT scans are done with you sitting in an upright position for a duration of 10-20 seconds utilizing only 1/6 the amount of radiation as typical scanners. Images are available to review with your surgeon within minutes.