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The Ear Microbiome Varies Between Those With and Without Ear Infections

Finally - research is being done on ear microbiomes (the community of microbes that live in the ears) and how they differ in people with ear infections and those without ear infections. A recently presented ear microbiome study (at the annual American Academy of Otolaryngology meeting) makes perfect sense, and ties in perfectly with sinus microbiome research. Specifically, that there are microbial communities or microbiomes in the ears, and if the microbial communities go out of whack (dysbiosis) it can cause symptoms (ear infection).

This research reminds me of a wonderful anecdote about ear infections and how they could possibly be treated - an ear wax transplant. From a 2012 article in ENT Today: Restoring Microbial Balance Key to Keeping Sinuses Healthy

Andrew Goldberg, MD, never tires of telling people about how he was outsmarted by a patient while working as a second-year otolaryngology resident at the University of Pittsburgh. Now the director of rhinology and sinus surgery at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center, Dr. Goldberg recalled how he assisted in the examination of a patient with a history of chronic otiti sexterna [ear infection] in one ear. Despite repeated trips to doctors for antibiotics, vinegar washes and drops, the patient’s ear trouble always came back.

Not this time. The doctors assumed that their treatments had finally done the trick, only to be told by the patient that he had likely cured himself by taking earwax from his good ear and sticking it in his bad ear. “I had no idea what that meant. I’m sure that we assumed, at the time, that what he was telling us was nonsense, that he was a little nutty,” Dr. Goldberg said. “We never thought anything more about it.”

The home remedy, however, now seems prescient in light of accumulating research suggesting that microbiomes, or distinct bacterial communities that coexist with us throughout our bodies, may play key roles in maintaining human health. When he began conducting his own microbiome research about five years ago, Dr. Goldberg realized that his former patient may have taken an intact, healthy microbiome and used it to re-inoculate the disrupted bacterial community in his bad ear.

Description of the recently presented study - unfortunately no details were given about specific microbes. From Health Day News at Medline Plus: 'Microbiomes' May Hold Key to Kids' Ear Infections

Recurrent ear infections are the bane of many children -- and the parents who have to deal with their care. Now, research suggests that naturally occurring, "helpful" bacterial colonies in the ear -- called "microbiomes" by scientists -- may help decide a person's vulnerability to these infections. "The children and adults with normal middle ears differed significantly in terms of middle ear microbiomes," concluded a team of Japanese researchers led by Dr. Shujiro Minami of the National Institute of Sensory Organs in Tokyo.

These bacterial ear infections -- called otitis media -- typically start in the middle ear, and 5 out of 6 kids will develop at least one ear infection by the time they turn 3. In the new study, Minami and colleagues wanted to see what role the ear's microbiome might play in these outbreaks. To do so, they took swab samples of the middle ears of 155 children and adults who were having ear surgery due to recurrent ear infections (88 cases) or some other condition.

Among patients with a history of ear infections, the researchers found significant differences in the makeup of microbial communities for people with active ("wet") or inactive ("dry") inflammation. In fact, people whose ear infection was dormant "had similar middle ear microbiomes as the normal [no ear infection] middle ears group," the researchers said. On the other hand, the researchers found that people with an active ear infection had bacterial communities that differed widely from those of people not suffering such outbreaks.

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