Chronic Ear Infections: What Are Your Options?

Ear infections are painful, messy, and for many patients, chronic. If you suffer from an ear infection that won't stop or you develop new infections quickly after getting rid of the old ones, you may suffer from chronic ear infections. Treatment for chronic infections ranges from the medical to the surgical, so it's important to know everything you can about your condition and your options.

Chronic Ear Infection Causes And Symptoms

Almost all ear infections are caused by improper draining of middle ear fluid through the Eustachian tubes. These tubes can become blocked in some patients, which halts drainage and provides a breeding ground for infectious bacteria. People with narrower Eustachian tubes are more prone to ear infections because the tubes are more frequently blocked up. Children tend to have narrower and less efficient drainage tubes in their ears, so they have a higher risk for ear infections.

If you think you may have an ear infection currently or you might have chronic, recurring ear infections, you should consider whether or not these symptoms sound familiar:

  • Painful or uncomfortable pressure in the ear
  • Low fever
  • Impaired hearing ability or complete hearing loss in the affected ear
  • Pus-like fluid leaking from the ear

If you have all or most of these symptoms, you may have an ear infection. If you have experienced many similar symptoms in the past, you may have chronic ear infections.

Treating Chronic Infections

Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medication can help ease some of the symptoms of your ear infections. Some doctors also recommend a diluted solution of water and white vinegar to help clean out infected ears. You can also try sleeping on the side of the infected ear to help it drain, but remember to place a cloth underneath.

If you want to end your infection, you should schedule a doctor's visit pronto. You'll need antibiotics to kill the bacteria infecting your ear, and you may need medical help unblocking your Eustachian tubes. If the infection has caused your eardrum to rupture, your doctor may recommend you use antibiotic drops instead of pills. These drops kill the current bacteria and also keep new bacteria from colonizing your inner ear.

While a course of antibiotics only lasts a week or two for some patients, others may need to continue taking medication for several months. Even after the bacteria have been killed off, pain and inflammation may temporarily persist.

Possible Surgical Solutions

For people with chronic ear infections, the cause is almost always structural. Narrow Eustachian tubes, overgrowths of bone, and damaged eardrums can all contribute to recurring ear infections. When you talk with your doctor, you should ask for an examination of your ear to determine whether you have any structures contributing to your illness.

Some people have narrow Eustachian tubes naturally, which gives them a higher risk for infection right off the bat. Multiple infections can cause the tubes to further narrow and even close up due to swollen mucosal tissue and the formation of new scar tissue. If your tubes are very narrow or closed, your doctor may recommend laser surgery to help remove unnecessary tissue and get your ears draining properly again.

Other patients suffer from a condition called otosclerosis, which causes bone to grow in the ear where it shouldn't. This added bone can contribute to blocked drainage tubes and continued infections. For bone growths, the treatment is much the same: laser surgery to remove the unnecessary mass. However, if you suffer from otosclerosis, multiple surgeries may be required in the future as bone continues to grow back.

You don't have to live with painful ear infections forever. Talk to your doctor for more info about your options, and you might be able to better control your condition with a combination of medicine and surgery.