Long-term effects of otitis media (OM) on hearing in both conventional and high frequency (HF) regions in children were studied.
Children with OM were enrolled in a prospective study of sequelae after tympanostomy tube insertion (intubation) and were examined serially at 6-mo intervals with audiometry and multifrequency tympanometry, and every 3 mo with tympanometry and otoscopy for at least 3, and up to 5 yr. Hearing thresholds in conventional and HF regions were compared with those of an age-matched control group of children who had 2 or fewer documented episodes of any type of OM since birth. Frequency of OM during follow-up, number of intubations, use of ototopical eardrops, age, and sex along with several other factors were analyzed for a relationship to HF hearing loss.
Otitis media history was associated with poorer HF hearing, but the presence of subtle residual middle ear dysfunction was not associated with an additional effect on HF hearing. Active middle ear disease significantly affected both conventional and HF thresholds. The number of intubations and frequency of OM during follow-up were significantly and positively associated with poorer HF thresholds. Several other factors, including middle ear appearance at intubation, presence of tympanosclerosis, age, male gender, and use of ototopical eardrops, were also associated with poorer HF hearing but failed to reach significance after their intercorrelation with number of intubations and frequency of OM was considered.
High frequency hearing loss was associated with OM after middle ear disease resolved and after middle ear dysfunction was excluded. Relatively poorer HF hearing thresholds found for older children with OM histories appeared to be attributable to time spent with ear disease. Children at greatest risk for HF hearing loss were those who required multiple intubations. Older children tended to have poorer hearing in both conventional and HF regions, suggesting that the effects of OM on hearing thresholds may be progressive.