Chronic Otitis Media in Adults

Chronic otitis media—an ongoing infection or inflammation in the middle ear—can affect adults as well as children.  

Chronic suppurative otitis media, also referred to as chronic otitis media or a chronic middle ear infection, is often associated with young, growing children. However, adults can also develop this condition. Chronic otitis media refers to a middle ear infection that is longstanding or recurs frequently, potentially leading to hearing loss and other serious complications if it is left untreated.

Chronic Otitis Media Causes

Chronic otitis media often develops from an acute middle ear infection. In other cases, an ear injury or blockage in the Eustachian tube—the structure that connects the back of the nose to the middle ear—is the cause of chronic otitis media.

Any adult can experience chronic otitis media, although the risk is increased for people who:

  • Smoke or are frequently around smokers
  • Have year-round or seasonal allergies
  • Are regularly exposed to air pollution

Chronic Otitis Media Symptoms

The symptoms of chronic otitis media tend to present as “flare-ups” that can strike after an upper respiratory infection or another ear infection, or if too much water enters the ear.

Unlike notoriously painful acute middle ear infections, chronic otitis media doesn’t usually cause noticeable pain (although some people do experience pain in one or both ears).

The most common symptoms include:

  • Pus-like drainage from the ear
  • A sore throat
  • Poor, muffled hearing
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fever

It’s important to promptly consult with a medical professional if you develop symptoms of an acute middle ear infection or chronic otitis media, as leaving the infection unaddressed can significantly damage the ear’s hearing bones (ossicles) and cause hearing loss.

Chronic Otitis Media Diagnosis

Identifying a chronic middle ear infection begins with a thorough review of symptoms and medical history, along with an ear exam. Chronic otitis media may be diagnosed if there is pus accumulating near the eardrum or other abnormalities are present.

Chronic Otitis Media Treatments

The main form of treatment for chronic otitis media is antibiotics. Antibiotic ear drops are usually prescribed, although some patients may be given a regimen of oral antibiotics. In more advanced cases, surgery may be recommended to:

  • Repair a damaged eardrum and/or hearing bones
  • Remove diseased tissue
  • Insert a small tube into the ear to improve ventilation and drainage

The otolaryngologists, surgeons, nurses and other experts at Tampa General Hospital’s ENT & Urology Institute provide well-rounded care to patients with chronic otitis media and other complex ENT conditions.