Recurrent ear infections in pets often indicate an infection of the middle ear. The ear has three parts: The outer canal is a curvy canal that has wax glands and, in some pets, hair follicles. At the bottom of the canal is a semi-transparent thin membrane called the ear drum that seals the canal. Behind the ear drum is a pocket in the bone of the skull called the middle ear. This middle ear is filled with air and some nerves that run through it. Deeper in the skull is the third part of the ear system called the inner ear. The inner ear has the structures for hearing and balance that are directly connected to the brain.
Ear Scopes – Precise Diagnosis = Most Effective Treatment
In the past, it was assumed that pets’ ear infections were just in the outer canal. Through the use of more modern diagnostic equipment, however, we have since learned that many of these pets actually have middle ear infections. This is why in the past – and even sometimes today – the standard treatment of ear canal cleaner and antibiotics fails to address the real problem: infection in the middle ear. Now, through the use of fiber-optic ear scopes, we can see deeply into the ear down to the middle ear to diagnose infection. We often find the middle ear full of wax and hair that is surrounded by infection, and we have to sedate the pet to use graspers to clear out large chunks of material that is deeply imbedded there.
After we remove all of the hard material from the middle ear, we then begin flushing and suctioning out all of the infected fluid and wax from the middle ear. Most pets with significant middle ear infections will need a second procedure with the earscope performed a few weeks later. Although we completely clean the area the first time, the infection is often so long-standing that there may still be some bacteria hiding in the pores of the skin of the canal or even in the bone of the middle ear. The second procedure flushes out any residual bacteria in the ear to help prevent recurrent infections.
The Importance of Vigilant Follow-Up Care
Infections of the outer ear canal are always painful but infections that have spread to the middle ear are extremely painful. The spread of the infection into the middle ear means that the ear drum has been perforated. The perforation itself is painful, but combined with the infection of the middle ear, the pet suffers a very deep pain.
Despite all this treatment, many pets will have recurrent ear infections. The possible causes of recurrent/chronic ear infections are allergies either to environmental materials or food, hormonal imbalances often an underactive thyroid condition and unfortunately recurrent infections which have no known cause.
Follow-up examinations for these pets are extremely important to prevent external canal infections from spreading to the middle ear.