Otitis media (OM), a middle-ear infection, is the most common childhood illness treated by pediatricians. If inadequately treated, OM can result in long-term chronic problems persisting into adulthood. Children with chronic OM or recurrent OM often have conductive hearing loss and communication difficulties and require surgical treatment. Tympanostomy tube insertion, the placement of a small drainage tube in the tympanic membrane (TM), is the most common surgical procedure performed in children under general anesthesia. Recent clinical studies have shown evidence of a direct correspondence between chronic OM and the presence of a bacterial biofilm within the middle ear. Biofilms are typically very thin and cannot be recognized using a regular otoscope. Here we report the use of optical coherent ranging techniques to noninvasively assess the middle ear to detect and quantify biofilm microstructure. This study involves adults with chronic OM, which is generally accepted as a biofilm-related disease. Based onmore than 18,537 optical ranging scans and 742 images from 13 clinically infected patients and 7 normal controls using clinical findings as the gold standard, all middle ears with chronic OM showed evidence of biofilms, and all normal ears did not. Information on the presence of a biofilm, along with its structure and response to antibiotic treatment, will not only provide a better fundamental understanding of biofilm formation, growth, and eradication in the middle ear, but also may provide much-needed quantifiable data to enable early detection and quantitative longitudinal treatment monitoring of middle-ear biofilms responsible for chronic OM.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9529-9534
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number24
StatePublished - Jun 12 2012


  • Low-coherence interferometry
  • Optical coherence tomography
  • Otolaryngology
  • Otoscopy
  • Primary care imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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