Zocdoc Answers

Medical questions & health advice by licensed doctors

"Is it possible for a middle ear infection to develop into something worse?"


What are some complications that can happen?


Yes. In order to understand what different types of complications can occur from otitis media, you must first understand some basic ear anatomy. The ear canal down to the level of the tympanic membrane (TM aka "ear drum") makes up the "outer ear".

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Everything internal to the tympanic membrane is the "middle ear". There are 3 bones that are attached to the TM and transmit its movement to something called the cochlea which converts the mechanical signal into an electrical signal and sends it to the brain which is how sound is interpreted. In order for this process to function properly, the middle ear must be aerated. The air normally get there through something called the eustachian tube. It is also augmented by an aerated bone called the mastoid. It is generally accepted that middle ear infections typically start out with a fluid collection (middle ear effusion) that can then get infected. Persistent fluid within the middle ear (even if its not infected) typically blunts hearing (conductive hearing loss) and can affect speech if the patient is young enough. In addition to short term conductive loss, there can potentially be scarring or damage to the cochlea that can cause permanent hearing loss. There are a multitude of other potential complication of otitis media including mastoiditis, meningitis, sub-dural abscess, facial nerve paresis, etc. For these reasons I would definitely recommend getting an evaluation by a physician if you suspect that you or someone you know has an ear infection.

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