Ear infection - chronic

Does your child have pain or discomfort in his ear? Does your child often have a fever and is fussy a lot? If so, they may have chronic ear infections.

Ear infections are one of the most common reasons parents take their children to the doctor. The Eustachian tube runs from the middle of each ear to the back of the throat. This tube drains fluid normally made in the middle ear. If the tube gets blocked, fluid can build up, leading to infection. Ear infections are common in infants and children because the Eustachian tubes become easily clogged. If the ears get infected a lot or individual ear infections don't clear up, your child has chronic ear infections.

How do you know for sure that your child has a chronic ear infection?

Your child will feel like there's pressure or fullness in his ear. He may pain or discomfort in his ear a lot and have a low-grade fever. An infant may be fussy a lot. You may see a pus-like drainage from an ear, and your child may have trouble hearing.

Your child's doctor will check for redness, air bubbles, and thick fluid in your child's middle ear. A swab of your child's ear may reveal bacteria that are harder to treat than bacteria that commonly cause an ear infection. The doctor may see a hole in your child's eardrum.

To treat a chronic ear infection, your child will probably need to take antibiotics if the infection is due to bacteria, maybe for a long time. If there is a hole in the eardrum, your child may need to use antibiotic ear drops or a mixture of vinegar and water.

If the infection does NOT go away, the child may need surgery, to clean the infection out of the mastoid bone in the middle ear, to repair or replace the small bones in the middle ear, or to repair the eardrum. The doctor may also recommend ear tube surgery. In this procedure, a tiny tube is inserted into the eardrum to drain the fluid. The tube will usually fall out on its own.

Chronic ear infections are treatable, but your child may need to keep taking medicine even for several months. These infections can be uncomfortable, and they may result in hearing loss or other serious problems.

Review Date: 2/18/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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