OTITIS MEDIA

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Essentials of Diagnosis

• Commonest cause of office visits in children between 6 mo and 2 y.

• Irritability, fever, earache, discharge from the ear, occasional vertigo.

• On otoscopic examination, the tympanic membrane is erythematous and has decreased mobility on pneumatic otoscopy, which demonstrates the presence of middle ear fluid.

• There may be diminished hearing.

• Laboratory values may show leukocytosis. Cultures of the ear are not routinely recommended.

General Considerations

Acute otitis media (AOM) is the middle ear inflammation that results in collection of fluid in the middle ear and associated local and systemic symptoms.

AOM is the most common reason for physician office visits for children under age 15 y. Children <> 6 children per room) centers, a sibling with AOM, parental smoking, and drinking from a bottle while lying flat on the back. Boys, Native Americans, and Alaskans have a higher incidence of AOM. A small percentage of children have an identifiable risk factor for recurrences such as congenital orofacial deformities and congenital or acquired immunodeficiencies such as HIV/AIDS. Recurrences occur in normal children with no apparent anatomic defects. A large percentage of AOM is viral, which may explain recurrences.

The most common bacterial organism responsible for otitis media is Streptococcus pneumoniae, which accounts for ~ 30-40% (Box 9-10) of cases. Cultures from the middle ear in various studies have demonstrated S pneumoniae, nontypable strains of H influenzae (21%), M catarrhalis (12%), S aureus, GAS (2-6%), and other less common gram-negative organisms including Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Penicillin-resistant S pneumoniae (PRSP) is increasing in the community and contributes to recalcitrant cases of AOM. PRSP is common in children < 6 y old, children who have received recent antibiotics, children with previous AOM, and children attending group daycare. Gram-negative organisms should be considered in neonates with AOM. Rare causes include M pneumoniae, which has a classic bullous lesion on the tympanic membrane, and Chlamydia trachomatis may be seen in very young infants. Occasionally mycobacterial or diphtheria middle-ear infections can occur.

Clinical Findings

A. Signs and Symptoms. Young infants or children may present with crying, irritability, anorexia, lethargy, or a history of pulling at the affected ear. Earache with or without associated drainage from the ear is the most common symptom in older children and adults. They may be febrile and occasionally present with vertigo, tinnitus, or decreased hearing.

Otoscopic examination reveals an erythematous tympanic membrane. The tympanic membrane may be bulging, retracted, or perforated and occasionally exuding purulent drainage from the perforation. Fluid in the middle ear is demonstrated by air-fluid levels, bulging, and decreased mobility of the tympanic membrane demonstrated by pneumatic otoscopy. Pneumatic otoscopy should be attempted in all children unless it is too painful. Other otologic techniques such as tympanometry and acoustic reflectometry can help assess the amount of fluid in the middle ear. Audiologic evaluation is necessary in children with hearing loss.

B. Laboratory Findings. Laboratory values are not helpful in the management of AOM. There may be polymorphonuclear leukocytosis. Routine middle ear cultures via tympanocentesis are not recommended unless the patient is toxic, has recurrent infections, or is not responding to empirical therapy. Swab cultures from the external auditory canal (EAC) do not accurately reflect the organism causing AOM because the EAC cannot be adequately decontaminated. Nasopharyngeal cultures are not specific in identifying the causative bacteria in AOM.

C. Imaging. Imaging is not of considerable help in otitis media. CT scans of the head should be done if mastoiditis or other complications are suspected.

Differential Diagnosis

Noninfectious causes of AOM, such as Wegener's granulomatosis, must be considered in a patient with recurrent and nonresponding disease. A foreign body in the EAC can present with earache and minimal erythema of the tympanic membrane. History and otoscopic visualization should identify a foreign body. A viral infection, fever, or crying or earwax removal can also cause a red tympanic membrane.

Complications

Chronic otitis media, effusion, mastoiditis, and intracranial extension may result from recurrent otitis media and persistent middle ear effusion. In the preantibiotic era, mastoiditis and intracranial extension occurred in ~ 20% and 2.5%, respectively, of AOM patients. Now that the use of antibiotics is common, these rates have decreased to 2.8% and 0.13%, respectively. Contiguous spread to the cranial fossae, temporal or petrous bone, or sigmoid or lateral sinuses results in suppurative complications. Conductive hearing loss because of chronic otitis media and effusion can potentially impair language development and academic functioning of the child.

Treatment

A large number of AOM cases are viral in nature with or without bacterial superinfection. Approximately 30% of AOM cases are bacterial. Studies have also demonstrated spontaneous resolution in 16% of S pneumoniae infections, 50% of H influenzae infections, and ~ 80% of M catarrhalis AOM, particularly in children older than 2 y. Because of concerns regarding suppurative complications, parental expectation, and perhaps convenience, antibiotic therapy has become the norm for most AOM treatment (Box 9-11). Numerous studies have now demonstrated that antibiotics benefit defervescence and otalgia, decrease suppurative complications, and improve tympanic membrane healing, but they have no significant benefit in long-term outcomes such as recurrence rates or chronic middle ear effusion. These studies and the recent increase in multi-drug-resistant organisms that have no or minimally efficacious treatment have brought this practice of judicious antibiotics use for AOM into question.

The approach to patients with AOM should be individualized. A delayed antibiotic approach can be considered in children older than 2 y with no immunodeficiency, no craniofacial anatomic abnormalities, intact tympanic membrane, and no previous AOM. The child should be scheduled for a follow-up visit. If a follow-up visit is not possible, an antibiotic can be started at the initial evaluation. The initial empirical antibiotic regimen should be active against the common organisms. Despite the emergence of resistance in these bacteria, amoxicillin is still the preferred and effective initial antibiotic of choice. In children with a history of antibiotic use in the preceding month, the initial antibiotic is still amoxicillin but given at a higher dose.

Antibiotics effective in the treatment of AOM include amoxicillin/clavulanate, cephalosporins such as cefaclor, cefixime, cefprozil, cefuroxime, cefpodoxime, loracarbef, or macrolides such as erythromycin, azithromycin, or clarithromycin, TMP-SMX, and erythromycin/sulfisoxazole (Pediazole). The newer expensive antibiotics do not have a significant benefit as first-line agents when compared with their cheaper counterparts (eg, amoxicillin and TMP-SMX). In patients with penicillin allergy, cephalosporins, macrolides, or TMP-SMX can be prescribed. Cephalosporins should be avoided in patients with histories of anaphylactic reaction to penicillin. Studies report mean clinical cure rates of 85-94% with amoxicillin.

Most patients start responding in 48-72 h. Causes for slower response or recurrence with lower-dose amoxicillin therapy include resistant organisms such as intermediate- or high-grade PRSP or ß-lactamase-producing H influenzae or M catarrhalis, suppurative complications, or noncompliance. Treatment failure is defined as lack of improvement in fever, ear pain, and persistent tympanic congestion, bulging, or otorrhea. It is important not to mistake a persistent middle ear effusion without signs of active infection as treatment failure. Treatment failure may be early (3 d) or late (10-25 d). If a child requires further treatment, high-dose (80 mg/kg/d) amoxicillin, a cephalosporin, amoxicillin/clavulanate, or a macrolide (either azithromycin or clarithromycin) may be prescribed. The choice of retreatment antibiotic depends on the risk of PRSP in the patient. Higher-dose amoxicillin or amoxicillin/clavulanate is still efficacious against intermediate-penicillin-susceptible S pneumoniae. Cefaclor and cefprozil are not good alternatives as second-line therapy because of their lower efficacy against nonsusceptible S pneumoniae and H influenzae. Because of the lack of activity against PRSP, clarithromycin, azithromycin, TMP/SMX, cefixime, ceftibuten, and loracarbef are recommended only as second-line antibiotics for patients at low risk for PRSP AOM.

Patients suspected of having PRSP AOM who fail high-dose amoxicillin should be considered for tympanocentesis for culture and susceptibilities. If empiric therapy is decided, the antimicrobial therapy should be effective against the ß-lactamase-producing H influenza and M catarrhalis in addition to being active against PRSP. Options include oral cefuroxime axetil, cefpodoxime or clindamycin, or parenteral cefotaxime, ceftriaxone or vancomycin. In children receiving clindamycin for PRSP, the addition of a ß-lactamase-stable cephalosporin may be required to cover for ß-lactamase-producing H influenzae. One parenteral dose of ceftriaxone 50 mg/kg/d is approved for AOM caused by susceptible S pneumoniae. However, ceftriaxone given daily for 3 d is likely to be more efficacious for AOM failing the first-line antimicrobial-agent therapy. Parenteral therapy is usually needed only for patients with severe AOM or those failing their second regimen. Middle ear aspirates should be sent for culture and susceptibilities to guide therapy in children failing second-line therapy. These patients should be reevaluated in 2 wk to ascertain that no suppurative complications have developed. A severely ill child failing initial therapy should be considered for admission and treatment with parenteral vancomycin and a third-generation cephalosporin, such as cefotaxime or ceftriaxone. A thorough evaluation for complications should also be conducted.

Symptomatic treatment is primarily pain control with analgesics such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. On occasion, myringotomy (incision of the tympanic membrane) may be required to relieve the middle ear pressure. In most studies, myringotomy did not improve outcome even when combined with antibiotics. Antihistaminics and decongestants have equal efficacy as a placebo in AOM, and they are not recommended.

Treatment of recurrent otitis media includes prevention of recurrent attacks, a second course of antibiotics with broader antibacterial spectrum as mentioned above or specific treatment depending on middle ear cultures. Secondary antibiotic prophylaxis, surgical drainage or adenoidectomy, and active immunization are some of the measures used to prevent AOM. Children with three new episodes in 6 mo or four episodes in 1 y should be considered for antibiotic prophylaxis with amoxicillin or erythromycin/sulfisoxazole. Antibiotic prophylaxis decreases recurrences = 44%. The patient should be regularly evaluated for middle ear effusion. Middle ear effusion is seen in ~ 50% of children with AOM and usually resolves in 3 mo in the majority of patients. Persistent middle ear effusion or otitis media with effusion (OME) beyond 3-4 mo requires further management. Children with OME should have an audiologic test to detect any hearing loss. Patients with OME with normal hearing should be retreated with a 2- to 3-wk course of an antibiotic. If the effusion resolves, then a prophylactic antibiotic course of 3 mo may be of benefit to prevent recurrences. Children with OME and conductive hearing loss should be evaluated by an otorhinolaryngologist for surgical drainage procedures such as myringotomy and tympanostomy tubes (tubes placed in the tympanic membrane for permanent drainage).

Prognosis

Recurrent AOM or OME may impair hearing, language development, and learning capabilities of the patient. The prognosis is worsened in patients with intracranial extension of infection. Uncomplicated AOM resolves without significant sequelae.

Prevention & Control

Currently available 23 polyvalent pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine produces poor immunologic responses in children <> 2 y . The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices advises that this vaccine be given to children with higher likelihoods of pneumococcal infections such as HIV-positive, asplenic, or sickle cell anemia patients. Conjugated pneumococcal vaccine is available and is more efficacious in children < 2 y old and may contribute to lowering the incidence of pneumococcal otitis media.

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