What a chronic ear infection looks like


25 Responses to “What a chronic ear infection looks like”

  1. Boundegar says:

    Those pictures made my ear hurt.  >.<

  2. bcsizemo says:

    This is why I put the Q-Tip all the way in.

  3. BrotherPower says:

    Seems like some kind of symbiotic nematode with sharp, pincery mouth parts and a hankering for biofilm is the answer here.


  4. Mark says:

    “… a new imaging device that produces pictures from reflected light.”

    Isn’t that a good description of a conventional camera?

    • robdobbs says:

      You beat me to this comment. Even the additional info of  “…the same way ultrasound makes images from reflected sound waves.” doesn’t help me understand this.

    • Susan Carley Oliver says:

      I’m guessing it has to do with a non-visible band of light, which a conventional camera wouldn’t capture.

    • Mark Dow says:

      “Scattered infrared light” is a better description. Optical coherence tomography:


      • femtoamy says:

        The images you see are actually cross-sections through the eardrum, revealing the thickening due to the biofilm.  A conventional camera can only see the outer eardrum surface.  Just like Ultrasound can see an unborn baby inside the body, Optical Coherence Tomography can see inside things at a much higher resolution, using a scanning laser and “tricks” with interferometry.  

  5. blueelm says:

    Wonder if this could also be a source of chronic bladder infections.

  6. Brian Cain says:

    As a parent of 2 young children this article answers a lot of questions I’ve been having.

    • Ito Kagehisa says:

      3 drops of vinegar in each ear after any immersion will prevent ear infections in children.   Drip it in after each bath, pull gently on the earlobe and rub the skin just below the ear until the vinegar fully penetrates, then roll the child over in your lap so the vinegar drains back out.  In my family it’s then traditional to say “now you smell like a salad!” and everyone laughs.

      If the child already has an ear infection the vinegar will sting!  S/he may cry, and should be held and comforted so that there’s no lasting aversion to eardrops in the future.  If there is no existing problem, regular cooking vinegar does not sting in your ears.  It will not harm your child’s health or hearing in any case.

      The infection develops because water is held in the ear by surface tension.  That’s how biofilms typically grow, in unmoving water.  You have them in your PVC plumbing (mine’s copper, so I don’t).  The vinegar releases the water so it all drains out, leaving a thin coat of vinegar.  The infection, which is bacterial or fungal, cannot survive the PH of the vinegar.

  7. Ian Wood says:

    My full-body biofilm functions as a rebreather underwater and as an environment suit for extra-atmospheric excursions. I call it Aldus.

  8. Andrew Glines says:

    I often surf with images turned off, and the days I am thankful for that are the days that BoingBoing has headlines akin to “here’s what an infection looks like”.

  9. Daemonworks says:

    “a new imaging device that produces pictures from reflected light”

    You mean like cameras?

  10. Paul Renault says:

    Aaaah..biofilms.   They’re why I do a quick brush of the teeth and gums, sans toothpate, before my first meal of the day.

  11. FreakCitySF says:

    I say use a Q-tip once a week and let the natural human ear waxes and bacteria do their job.  Did cavemen have chronic ear infections?  For the longest I used a Q-tip daily. And then I got an ear infection. And it was a nasty bugger as my ear was visibly sticking out further than my other side.

    Anyhow I’ve cut back Q-tip usage and so far so good. 

    • Did cavemen have chronic ear infections?

      I’m not quite sure why you’re asking this as though the answer would be, “No.” 

      There’s absolutely no reason to think that cavemen didn’t get (and die from) infections of all kinds, including those of the ear. 

    • Paul Renault says:

       My mother, who worked for decades as a nurse, told me that when she was trained, the rule was “the smallest thing you put in your ear is your own elbow and then only after you had wrapped your winter jacket around it.”

      No, I don’t even use the Q-tips. 

      •  I had about 6 ear infections as a child/teenager. I have distinct memories of two being beyond terrible. (One was while on vacation at Disney World)

        I am now a Q-Tip addict. My ears always feel waxy to me. I can’t say I attribute it to my infection past. And, I know as we age, our ear canals flatten out and the water/gunk isn’t as likely to get caught. But I have not had an ear issue in a long time. I also don’t poke my ear drums out. Take it for what it’s worth.

  12. mamayama says:

    Ah, that explains one of the custom mixtures the ENT docs order from my pharmacy…a mixture of antibiotic and antifungal powders (chloramphenicol, sulfanilamide, and amphoteracin, usually) that are puffed into the ear, more concentrated than ear drops or systemic antibiotics. Must be trying to clobber a biofilm!

  13. phuzz says:

     One of my ears, which has had half a dozen different operations, gets an ear infection every time I get water in it (which means I always shower looking at the floor).  Maybe I’ll try Ito Kagehisa’s vinegar treatment.Q-tips (which aren’t Q shaped in the UK), do clean my ear, but seem to just push crap down into the deep recesses of my ear, rather than cleaning it out.

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