UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Pediatrics

Title: Acute Otorrhea in Children with PE tubes

Keywords: tympanostomy tubes, antibiotics, otorrhea (PubMed Search)

Posted: 7/18/2014 by Jennifer Guyther, MD
Click here to contact Jennifer Guyther, MD

Up to 26% of patients with tympanostomy tubes (PE tubes) can suffer from clinically manifested otorrhea.  This is thought to be the result of acute otitis media that is draining through the tube. Previous small studies suggested that antibiotic ear drops are as effective or more effective and with less side effects for its treatment.  This study compared treatment with antibiotic/glucocorticoid ear drops (hydrocortisone-bacitracin-colistin) to oral Augmentin (30 mg/kg/TID) to observation for 2 weeks.

Study population: Children 1-10 years with otorrhea for up to 7 days in the Netherlands
Exclusion criteria included: T > 38.5 C, antibiotics in previous 2 weeks, PE tubes placed within 2 weeks, previous otorrhea in past 4 weeks, 3 or more episodes of otorrhea in past 6 months
Patient recruitment: ENT and PMD approached pt with PE tubes and they were told to call if otorrhea developed and a home visit would be arranged
Study type: open-label, pragmatic, randomized control trial
Primary outcome: Treatment failure defined as the presence of otorrhea observed otoscopically
Secondary outcome: based on parental diaries of symptoms, resolution and recurrence over 6 months

Results: After 2 weeks, only 5% of the ear drop group compared to 44% of the oral antibiotic group and 55% of the observation group still had otorrhea.  There was not a significant difference between those treated with oral antibiotics and those that were observed.  Otorrhea
lasted 4 days in the ear drop group compared to 5 days with oral antibiotics and 12 days with observation (all statistically significant).

Key differences:  The antibiotic dosing and choice of ear drops are based on availability and local organism susceptibility.

Bottom line:  For otorrhea in the presence of PE tubes, ear drops (with a non-aminoglycoside antibiotic and a steroid) may be more beneficial than oral antibiotics or observation.


van Dongen TM, van der Heijden GJ, Venekamp RP, Rovers MM, Schilder AG. A trial of treatment for acute otorrhea in children with tympanostomy tubes. N Engl J Med 2014; 370:723-33.