Recurrent Ear Infections

What are ear infections?

The most common reason children see a physician is otitis media (PDF), or middle ear infections. Otitis media is different than external otitis, which is the infection of the external ear canal that is also sometimes known as "swimmer's ear." Ear infections can occur during or after colds and flus and also may be related to bacteria in the ear.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include:

  • Tugging at the ears
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Pain around the ears
  • Loss of balance
  • Lack of hearing
  • Fluid leaking from the ear canal

How are they treated?

Treatment ranges from observation (some ear infections go away on their own) to medications to surgery when ear infections are recurrent and severe. When surgery is necessary, two kinds of surgery are the most common:

  • Ear tube surgery (PDF). The surgeon makes a small incision in the eardrum. Fluid is removed from the middle ear and then a very small tube is inserted into the hole. This lets air into the middle ear space and prevents fluid from building up again.
  • Adenoidectomy (PDF). In addition to ear tube placement, removing the adenoids may be helpful, especially in those children with repeated ear infection problems or severe nasal obstruction.

Surgery will not prevent all ear infections, but after surgery, your child's infections should be fewer and milder.

About surgery for recurrent ear infections at Children's

The ENT surgery team at Children's provides next-generation care to neonatal infants, newborns, children, and adolescents from throughout the Upper Midwest. This multidisciplinary team provides some of the most cutting-edge, delicate treatments available, including newborn surgery and minimally invasive surgery. Otolaryngology surgery is performed at Children's - Minneapolis, Children's - St. Paul, and Children's West.

If you are a family member looking for a Children's ENT specialist, visit Find a Doctor.

If you are a health professional looking for a consultation or referral information, please call Children's Physician Referral at 1-866-755-2121 (toll-free).

Return to Children's ENT surgery home page.