Middle Ear Infections

What Are The Possible Complications Of Middle Ear Infections?

In some children, repeated episodes of middle ear infections or chronic otitis media with effusion may cause hearing problems.

Hearing problems can delay speech and language development and, consequently, may make it difficult to learn to read. Such delays in normal development can, in turn, cause problems with learning in general and with behavior.

  • The risk of developing learning and behavioral problems is particularly high in children with long-term mild hearing loss. This can happen when parents and doctors are unaware of the chronic otitis media with effusion, the child has severe repeated bouts of middle ear infection, or when these conditions do not respond to treatment.
  • The mild-to-moderate hearing loss that occurs with the temporary bouts of ear infections and chronic otitis media with effusion that comes and goes, rarely causes serious or permanent delays in normal child development, especially if treated promptly.

Although quite rare, severe or recurring middle ear infections can cause serious problems, some of which happen if the infection spreads to nearby bones or the brain. Complications to be aware of include the following:

  • Ruptured eardrums, which may heal on their own or which may need to be surgically repaired.
  • Infection of the mastoid bone (the honeycombed bone behind the ear). This condition, called mastoiditis, sometimes causes deterioration of the bone. It may require long-term antibiotic treatment and sometimes even having the bone surgically removed.
  • Brain abscesses, or pockets of pus, caused by spread of the infection to the brain.
  • Meningitis, an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.
  • Facial paralysis, which is caused by involvement of the facial nerve that runs near the ear. The paralysis can be relieved by drainage surgery.
  • Cysts, called cholesteatomas.
  • Calcification and hardening in the middle or inner ear.

Always remember to:

  • Call your doctor or pediatrician if you are concerned about the possibility of a middle ear infection. In many cases, the infection will go away by itself, but sometimes antibiotics are needed.
  • Contact your doctor immediately if your child develops sudden hearing loss, headache, dizziness, chills, fever, stiff neck, or severe vomiting.

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