Chronic Ear Infection | Otolaryngology (ENT) | Loyola Medicine

Chronic Ear Infection

Overview and Facts about Chronic Ear Infection

A chronic ear infection is an infection of the ear that does not heal. In most cases, this involves a clogged eustachian tube, which is the tube that drains fluid out of the middle ear.

When this tube is clogged, fluid cannot drain, causing pain and pressure within the ear. With chronic ear infections, this pressure can cause long-term damage to the ear in the form of a ruptured eardrum.

Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Ear Infection

In many cases, the signs of a chronic ear infection aren’t as noticeable as the signs of an acute (short-term) ear infection. Symptoms may come and go in intensity, which often causes people to delay getting help.

Possible symptoms include:

  • Drainage from the ear
  • Ear pain and pressure
  • Hearing loss
  • Low-grade fever
  • Problems sleeping

Causes and Risk Factors of Chronic Ear Infection

Children have the biggest risk for chronic ear infections because their eustachian tubes have not fully developed. Their tubes are more horizontal, narrow and short, which increases the chances of them becoming clogged.

Chronic ear infections can also be caused by certain bacteria. In particular, pneumococcal bacteria cause about 50% of middle ear infections.

Tests and Diagnosis of Chronic Ear Infection

To have a chronic ear infection diagnosed, you should seek treatment from an otolaryngology (ENT) department. The doctor will examine your ear to look for redness, air bubbles, fluid and other signs of an infection. They may also:

  • Conduct hearing tests to see if you have suffered hearing loss
  • Perform a CT scan to see if the infection has spread to other parts of the ear and head
  • Take a culture of the fluid in your ear to test for bacteria

Treatment and Care of Chronic Ear Infection

Since many ear infections are caused by bacteria, your doctor will provide antibiotics as treatment. This should reduce the infection and give your ear a chance to heal.

If the chronic ear infection has caused a hole in the eardrum, your doctor may use antibiotic ear drops instead. Your doctor may also need to clean out the ear to remove excess tissue.

For serious chronic ear infections that aren’t responding to other treatment, your doctor may perform surgery to:

  • Clean the ear to remove all traces of infection
  • Fix a broken eardrum
  • Insert tubes through the eardrums to prevent buildup of fluid
  • Replace or repair some of the small bones in the ear