When Should You See A Doctor For Chronic Ear Infections?

Connecting the middle of our ears to the back of the throat, the job of our eustachian tubes is to drain fluid produced in the middle ear (via Penn Medicine). In the event of an obstruction, however, this fluid can accumulate and we run the risk of viral or bacterial infection behind the eardrum, reports Weill Cornell Medicine. Most of us are familiar with acute middle ear infections, as these can strike abruptly with more extreme symptoms. However, cases of acute otitis media are generally short-lived in comparison to chronic ear infections, which can be long-lasting or recurrent.

Chronic ear infections can be the result of allergies, damage to the ear, sinusitis, or cases of the cold or flu. Symptoms may include low-grade fever, pressure in the ear, trouble hearing, difficulty sleeping, pain, and pus-like discharge from the infected ear. Conversely, young babies with ear infections may display fussy behavior or tug on the ear.

One of the key differences between acute ear infections and chronic ear infections is the severity of symptoms, explains Weill Cornell Medicine. Unlike acute middle ear infections, chronic ear infections often exhibit milder symptoms that may pass in waves, making chronic ear infections more difficult to detect.

Potential complications of chronic ear infections

Untreated chronic ear infections can potentially lead to complications, such as paralysis of the face, hearing loss, bone damage within the middle ear, brain inflammation, cysts in the middle ear, tissue hardening, eardrum damage, and more (via Healthline). For this reason, it's important to see your doctor as soon as possible to prevent an acute middle ear infection from developing into a chronic ear infection.

Reach out to your physician if you have been diagnosed with an acute ear infection that has been unresponsive to treatment, or if you develop new or worsening symptoms. Additionally, be on the lookout for indicators of an ear infection lasting longer than normal. While many cases will resolve on their own, see your doctor if your ear infection does not improve within three days, is accompanied by a fever exceeding 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, or in the event that your ear infection routinely returns, explains Getwell Urgent Care.

Treatment for chronic ear infections often requires prescription antibiotics, according to Healthline. In unresponsive or severe cases of chronic ear infections, surgery may be warranted to drain the middle ear fluid or to repair damage incurred to the eardrum or small bones within the middle ear.