Serous Otitis Media and Hearing Loss

Serous otitis media describes a collection of fluid in the middle ear. This may be a recent onset (acute) or may be long standing (chronic). Serous otitis media is the most common cause of hearing loss in children. Fortunately, the hearing loss associated with this condition usually is not permanent, but if left over a long period of time, serous otitis media has been known to cause or exacerbate speech and language delays.

Serous otitis media may result from any condition that interferes with the periodic opening and closing of the Eustachian tube. The causes may be congenital (present at birth), may be caused by an infection or allergy, or caused by mechanical blockage of the tube. Serous otitis media may be present without recurrent ear infections and a mild hearing loss may be the only sign of its presence. Prompt audiological identification of the hearing loss and medical intervention usually restore hearing to normal or near-normal levels.

Treatment of Acute Serous Otitis Media

Treatment of acute serous otitis media is medical and is directed towards treatment of the upper respiratory infection or allergy attacks. This may include antibiotics, antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal sprays. In the presence of an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, tonsillitis, or pharyngitis, fluid in the middle ear may become infected. This results in what is commonly called an abscessed ear or an infected middle ear. This infected fluid (pus) in the middle ear may cause severe pain. If the audiological and medical evaluations reveal there is considerable ear pressure, a myringotomy (incision of the eardrum membrane) may be necessary to relieve the pressure, drainage, and pain. In many instances antibiotic treatment will suffice. The pressure equalization tube inserted usually stays in and open for 4-6 months and then is naturally pushed out be healing processes in the ear.

Treatment of Chronic Serous Otitis Media

Treatment of chronic serous otitis media may either be medical or surgical. Medical treatment may include antibiotics and antihistamines. As the acute upper respiratory infection subsides, it may leave the patient with a persistent Eustachian tube blockage. Surgical treatment can include and myringotomy and the insertion of a ventilation tube. The ventilation tube temporarily takes the place of the Eustachian tube in equalizing middle ear pressure. Usually the chonic condition resolves while the tube is in place, not requiring the re-insertion of an additional tube. When a ventilation tube is in place, a patient may carry on normal activities with the exception that no water must enter the ear canal. Often this can be prevented with Vaseline on a cotton ball or a silicone ear plug. In addition, a custom earmold, made by the audiologist, will often prevent water from entering the ear canal.