What Is It?
Nearly everyone has suffered an ear infection at some time or another. It is about the most common infection you can get. You can catch it from swimming or from simply catching the common cold. Ear infections are common especially among children, and for some they are a chronic problem. Surgery is common for individuals suffering from middle ear infections, also known as acute otitis media. This type of ear infection typically occurs in a small pocket of space that exists behind the eardrum. Usually ear infections strike after another illness like a cold or a respiratory infection.
The reason for this is a tube connecting the throat and the middle ear (called the Eustachian tube) can swell up during an infection and prevent air from reaching the middle ear. This creates a vacuum like effect which can cause fluid to gather in this space. This fluid attracts bacteria and viruses, which grow in the fluid resulting in an ear infection.
When left alone these infections sometimes resolve on their own, but they can also become chronic, especially in children because their eardrums are not fully developed. Ear infections are also common in individuals with compromised immune system. The most common symptoms of ear infections include having pain in one or both ears, experiencing drainage in the ears, having trouble sleeping, experiencing fever, ear pain and loss of appetite.
Many patients take pain killers and sometimes antibiotics, although it may be necessary to have surgery called a myringotomy to correct chronic ear infections.
A myringotomy is surgery to help correct chronic ear infections. While it doesn’t always cure the problem, most people report it helps reduce ear infections significantly, especially when performed among young children. During this surgery a doctor will insert tubes into the ear to drain and ventilate the middle ear. This may be done to one or both of the ears. This can help relieve pressure in the ears and may also relieve any hearing loss in the ears associated with chronic ear infections.
The surgery is performed under general anesthesia. Usually the surgeon cuts a small hole in the middle eardrum where he or she will insert the plastic tube into the opening of the ear drum to allow fluid to drain. The tubes serve as a ventilator in the ear once all of the fluid is gone so ear infections do not recur.
Usually this problem is dominate in children younger than age 2.
Alternatives to Surgery
Doctor may also perform what is known as an adenoidectomy where they remove the tonsils of the patient. This usually is only recommended after a child has had three surgeries with tube placement that have not worked. This surgery is only performed after children have reached age 4 or older and if the child has severe nasal blockage too because otherwise taking the tonsils out alone will not help relieve chronic ear infections and pain and discomfort behind the ears.
Other alternatives may include keeping the ears dry and free from debris. If you swim consider getting some drops that help dry out the ears following a swim so fluid does not collect behind the eardrums, as this can invite bacteria into the ear. You should also avoid dipping young babies into the water to help prevent water from getting trapped into their ears, unless you know you can dry their ears out.
Before The Operation
Before surgery a doctor will confirm the patient’s diagnosis and probably have the child take antibiotics first and try other remedies before recommending surgery. Surgery is used only for chronic ear infections that have gone on for more than three to four months without satisfactory resolution. Doctors often recommend surgery if fluid continues to come back in the ear despite treatment. Surgery is also recommended if the eardrum ruptures and doesn’t heal within 6 months.
After The Operation
After surgery the patient will spend some time in recovery to make sure they are ok. Typically children will recover quickly and will follow up with their pediatrician.
Complications do not often occur but may follow any surgery. Complications associated with anesthesia are most likely, although some complications resulting from surgery itself may occur in rare instances. These may include nerve problems in the face, abscesses or pockets of infection at the incision site, and an ear infection that does not resolve despite surgery.
Chronic ear infections can cause hearing loss and other complications including structural problems. Some children may develop craniofacial problems and ongoing pain. It is important that children at risk for chronic ear infections receive prompt and specialized treatment. As more infections become resistant to antibiotics and more ear infections become complicated it is more important than ever that patients be willing to treat infections promptly.
In humid climates patients may be more at risk for ear infections because the weather is not dry. It is important you talk with your physician if you have concerns about a family member suffering from chronic infections. The sooner you consider treating this condition the less likely you and your child is to suffer. Ear surgery is one of the most common types of surgery offered throughout the world. For this reason it has a relatively safe track record of assisting patients on their road to recovery.
Estimated Costs for Ear Infection Surgery