Saturday, April 30, 2011

Medical Terms That Sound Like A Diagnosis But Really Are Not: Otitis

Infections are one of the most common causes of inflammation. It is always important to determine what type of infection you're dealing with.

But things are not always as simple as that.

Let's say your dog was diagnosed with otitis.

Otitis is often used as a synonym for an ear infection, though the word really stands for inflammation of the ear. Infection, however, is usually involved.

The most common type of ear infection is “otitis externa” where the infection and inflammation is limited to the outer ear canal. You might have noticed a bad odor or discharge, redness or swelling, head shaking, scratching or rubbing at the ears …

The  infection can be bacterial, fungal or parasitic (ear mites).

You don't want a treatment based on an assumption; you want to know for sure what the cause is because the treatment is different for each type of infection.

Now the question is what caused the infection in the first place.

A one-time infection can have a simple cause and might not come back after appropriate treatment.

For example, a bacterial infection could have been caused by a foreign body (e.g., a grass awn or Foxtail) or trauma that disrupts the normal protective mechanisms of the ear. (Of course the foreign body must be removed for the infection to go away).

A yeast infection might follow after antibiotic treatment of bacterial otitis.

When he was grading our papers, our English professor would always say, “One mistake – no mistake,” and give an A on a paper with just one error.

Chronic cases, however, are a different story.

In some dogs, the anatomy of the ear itself can make it susceptible to infections. Think Cocker Spaniels with their floppy ears – cute, but they trap dampness and debris inside making them virtual Petri dishes for infection.  With some extra care, owners can often manage these types of situations.

However, ear infections can be secondary to other conditions, such as allergies or other systemic diseases!

Dogs suffering with allergies are also susceptible to ear infections. In fact, recurring otitis can be the first warning sign of an allergy problem.

Some hormonal imbalances also lead to frequent infections, including otitis.

For example, Cushing's disease (hyperadrenocorticism) is caused by overproduction of the hormone cortisol. High cortisol levels suppress the immune system and make dogs more susceptible to infections.

As you can see, as medical and definitive as the term otitis might sound, it requires further qualification and in recurring cases warrants  additional investigation for an underlying cause.

It's your dog's health!

Further reading:
External Ear Infection (External Otitis) in Dogs
Ear Infections (Otitis Externa) & Ear Cleaning in Dogs
Ear Infections (Otitis Externa)
Can allergies cause my dog's ear infection?
Ear Mites FAQ 

Related articles:
Phoenix's Chronic Ear Infections
Medical Terms That Sound Like A Diagnosis But Really Are Not (Part I)
Medical Terms That Sound Like A Diagnosis But Really Are Not: One-thing-or-anotheritis


  1. Cushing's is always hiding behind other symptoms, nasty disease!

  2. Ace has an ear infection right now! He gets about two ear infections per year. When I take him to the vet to get checked, I'm always told he has a high amount of yeast. I don't know if the infections are caused by allergies or just me not keeping his ears clean enough or some kind of hormonal imbalance. He was also on antibiotics recently. And the infection is always in one ear, never both ears. And it's not the same ear every time. Go figure!

  3. Hi Lindsay, sorry about Ace!

    It is my understanding that some dogs require higher ear maintenance. Some can have the ear canal to narrow, or having hair growing in it etc. Those would require special care.

    What did he mean by high amount of yeast? In the ear or in general?

    What food is Ace on? Apparently diet can affect that.

    I'd think hormonal imbalances are more likely to cause bacterial infections than yeast ones.

    I would want to have a good look at what is causing all that yeast, whether it's diet or something else.

    Does he have allergies also? Or other recurring problems?

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  5. I have 4 and half years old dog mix- Black Lab x Boxer. First 3.5 years he suffered from otitis after his com. vaccinations and a rabies shot.(first 5 month he vas a happy healthy puppy.
    I was told by vet., to have his ears cannal taken out. One ear operation 14 hundred dolars. Having the infection in both ears my dog would be completely deaf. Out of desperate situation (he was shaking his head, spraying blood everywhere with his flopy ears ends bleeding constantly)I bought pure Tea Tree Oil and with a drop pump put it strait in the ear cannal. First time his inside skin peel off. After 2 weeks his ears cleaning and treating with tea tree oil he was healthy again. It cost me 10 dolars to fixed. After 3 years of suffering and around thousand dolars in bills for lab tests (they couldn't find anything) telling mi it is alergies. I don't know if it would work for small dog. My dog is 95 pounds.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story! Wow, 3 years of suffering in such way is a long time.

    I'm glad the tea tree oil worked for you. Was that a diluted solution? Personally I'd be worried about toxic and corrosive effect, but I won't argue with the results.

    I think the main point to bring home from this is that if something is not working, look for a different solution. And if you're not getting the help for your dog you need, look for a second opinion.

  7. It's such a good post for our pets. I have a dog, named Bailey. Few days ago, he is troubled with ear infection. Then I went to a veterinary hospital. During physical exam a growth was discovered. This growth was inhibiting his air intake. Within an hour, surgery was performed and Bailey was breathing normally. Ear Infections in Dogs

  8. It's hard with pets to know exactly what is wrong. I recently had a customer contact me, who had purchased a LitterHouse litter box a few years ago. She told me a story of how the vet was diagnosing her cat with a kidney problem and when her little kitty passed, they found out she had enlarged intestines.

    1. No, it's not always easy, but one should at least know when they don't really have the answers.