Childhood Middle Ear Disease

baby crying

A New Report on Childhood Middle Ear Disease*

  • Otitis media is the general term for a range of middle ear diseases.[1] Many parents whose children have otitis media may just call it ‘glue ear’ or an ‘ear infection’.
  • It is estimated that more than 7 out of 10 children will have at least one case of middle ear disease (otitis media) by their first birthday. [2]
  • Antibiotics comprised around 90 percent of GP prescribed medications for otitis media for children under 15 years of age. [2] (between 2000 and 2007)
  • In 2008 alone it is estimated that over half a million (575,444) Australians will have been affected by mild to moderate temporary hearing impairment due to middle ear disease. [2]
  • The cost to families, in caring for their child(ren) with middle ear disease, are estimated to be $56 million this year [2]

Clinical Professor Harvey Coates, University of Western Australia and ear, nose and throat surgeon at the Princess Margaret Hospital for Children said that the findings were real cause for concern due to the sheer number of children affected by middle ear disease.

“What is particularly confronting is the number of antibiotics being prescribed for middle ear disease, and the long term implications of middle ear disease on children’s health and learning,” Professor Coates said.

“Ways to improve this situation is to focus on earlier diagnosis of middle ear disease and referral to a specialist. Doctors and parents alike should consider referral to a specialist if a child has experienced more than three middle ear infections within six months. This report has shown that it doesn’t pay to delay attention to this condition,” said Professor Coates.

Julie Colee understands the impact middle ear disease can have on a family.

Although the majority of cases of middle ear infection are mild and get better without treatment** [2, 3] earlier in the year her 11 month old son Edward was diagnosed with mastoiditis, a rare, more serious, condition where the bone immediately behind the ear becomes infected. Mastoiditis is frequently due to a middle ear infection that spreads to the mastoid bone. [4, 5]

Edward’s infection started with a temperature and vomiting and resulted in him being admitted to hospital for two days where he steadily improved.

After three days at home Edward woke up screaming with a very swollen and red ear and was diagnosed with mastoiditis by the doctor in emergency. Given the seriousness of the condition he was readmitted and placed on a drip. The doctor decided that grommets and surgery were required.

“It is such a horrible experience to watch your child in pain, he couldn’t communicate what was wrong and you panic when you realise you can’t help them,” said Julie.

“Edward could barely sleep as the drip needed to be replaced every few hours and when he awoke from the anaesthetic he was very unsettled and distressed.”

“Every parent wishes to avoid seeing their child in so much pain and in hospital. You feel so hopeless and it has such a massive impact on your child’s life,” said Julie.

“It may just be a nasty ear infection but it can have an impact on your child’s learning and development and it also means you have to take more time to do things such as being mindful of his ears when doing the simplest things.”

For further information or advice about middle ear infections speak to your doctor.

†Please refer to the Access Economics report “The cost burden of otitis media in Australia” provided for further information as this document does not include all of the findings, rather it is a summary of some of the key findings. The Access Economics report contains the definitions used for of each of the different types of otitis media.

* Access Economics was commissioned by GlaxoSmithKline to estimate the incidence, financial impact and burden of disease from otitis media in Australia.

** (no symptoms or symptoms such as ear pain, vomiting, fever, mild to moderate temporary hearing impairment during the course of the ear infection)

GlaxoSmithKline Australia Pty Ltd.
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Boronia, 3155 VIC

Reference List

1. Cripps AW, Otczyk DC, Kyd JM. Bacterial otitis media: a vaccine preventable disease? Vaccine 2005; 23(17-18):2304-2310.
2. Access Economics. The cost burden of otitis media in Australia. 2008.
3. Alper C, Bluestone C, Casselbrant M, Dohar J, Mandell E. Advanced Therapy of Otitis Media. BC Decker; 2004.
4. Baljosevic I, Mircetic N, Subarevic V, Markovic G. Acute mastoiditis in infants. Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol 2006; 263(10):906-909.
5. Tarantino V, D'Agostino R, Taborelli G, Melagrana A, Porcu A, Stura M. Acute mastoiditis: a 10 year retrospective study. Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol 2002; 66(2):143-148.