Ear Infection Complications That You Should Take Seriously

Ear Infection Complications That You Should Take Seriously

Ear infections are the most common illness for which parents take their children to the doctor. A common childhood condition, ear infections can occur so frequently that children and parents alike may take them in stride, treating subsequent incidents as “not that bad.” In most cases, infections do resolve with little or no treatment.

However, there are situations where ear infections don’t fully resolve. In these cases, chronic infection can lead to serious complications that may compromise your child’s hearing or lead to systemic infection. While less common, adults aren’t immune to complications from ear infections, either. Middle ear infections, medically called otitis media, can affect anyone of any age.

The causes behind ear infections

The middle ear, located behind the eardrum, is usually a dry area supplied by fresh air through the eustachian tubes. When these tubes become blocked, such as when you have a cold, the middle ear becomes a warm and damp breeding ground for bacteria, which may even enter the area by way of the blocked eustachian tubes.

One reason children suffer from ear infections more often is due to the condition of their youthful eustachian tubes, which can collapse more easily than they will later in life. This leads to blockages creating the germ-laden environments that infections thrive on.

Multiple infections over several months may indicate the eustachian tubes aren’t functioning well. This could increase the chances of complications resulting from middle ear infections.

Serious complications of ear infections

The progression of ear infection follows several different courses, and the frequency of these infections may also create long-term complications. Though still rare, the following are some of the more common complications resulting from middle ear infections.

Eardrum perforation

Small holes in the eardrum aren’t uncommon during ear infections. After a single infection clears, the tiny hole heals without ill effect. When a child suffers persistent and recurring infections, however, the ear doesn’t have sufficient time to recover.

Holes may not reseal and over time become larger with each subsequent infection. Since the eardrum is the first stage of the hearing process, hearing could be permanently affected.

Middle ear hearing loss

Temporary hearing loss during a single ear infection is a common symptom that typically reverses when the infection clears. Just as with eardrum perforations, recurring infections interrupt the normal healing cycle. This may result in a buildup of scar tissue that interferes with sound reaching the auditory nerve.

Called conductive hearing loss, the physical motion of the bones of the middle ear gets restricted. In some cases, surgery may repair the damage, but this isn’t an option for everyone.


Recurring ear infections may create a mass of skin cells in the middle ear called a cholesteatoma that, left untreated, may cause damage to many of the structures within the ear. The bones of the hearing mechanism may erode, as can bone between the ear and brain. The auditory nerve itself may be damaged, as can the nerves responsible for facial movements.


A porous bone that helps with fluid drainage in the ear, the mastoid itself may become infected and inflamed. Swelling of the mastoid bone is an emergency, requiring immediate attention that may include antibiotics delivered intravenously, an emergency ear drain, or possibly surgery to remove infected bone tissue. Chronic mastoiditis can result in bone damage and the spread of infection, causing brain abscesses or meningitis.

Despite their common nature, no ear infection should be treated lightly, particularly when they’re recurring. Call Southern ENT or request an appointment from our website to investigate the status of your child’s ear infection.

You Might Also Enjoy...

How to Cope With Adult-Onset Allergies

Going about your regular life and suddenly experiencing allergy symptoms can throw you for a loop. Learning to adjust to life after an adult-onset allergy diagnosis takes time, but if you have allergies, you can still lead a normal, active life.

What Can I Do About Tinnitus?

Is that ringing in your ears driving you crazy? Known as tinnitus, this condition is frustrating and can add stress to your already stressful life. Proper diagnosis is the first step to gaining control and getting relief.

When Should You Consider Sinus Surgery?

The nasal congestion and pain of sinus problems are no fun, but when are your sinus problems serious enough to consider surgery? Here’s what you need to know to understand when surgery is the best option.

Life with a Hearing Aid

Wearing hearing aids can help you get back to life and enjoy being part of the conversation again. Getting tested and choosing a hearing aid isn’t complicated, and today’s technology makes wearing hearing aids easier than ever.

Stop Sneezing This Spring and Get Allergy Tested

The sneezing of allergies can interfere with day-to-day activities and impair quality of life. But how do you know if you have allergies or are simply suffering from a common cold? Get answers by visiting a specialist.