Primary tuberculosis of the middle ear cleft: diagnostic and therapeutic considerations

Eur Arch Otorhinolaryngol. 2014 Jul;271(7):2083-9. doi: 10.1007/s00405-014-2977-7. Epub 2014 Mar 8.


Tuberculosis remains one of the most challenging infectious diseases, which rarely manifests in the middle ear cleft exclusively. Typical symptoms of tuberculosis have become more and more confusing due to the genetic evolution of different Mycobacterium species. In the diagnosis of tuberculous otitis media (TOM), clinical suspicion plays a fundamental role, when topical and/or systemic antibiotic treatment cannot lead to improvement in ear discharge and inflammation. If there is no other reason of persisting otorrhea, microbiological sampling and culturing are the subsequent steps of diagnosis. These investigations, however, have low sensitivity; therefore a canal wall-up mastoidectomy is recommended, which includes the removal of necrotic bone and multiple histological sampling from various locations. Currently, histopathological analysis is the most robust and reliable method in the diagnosis of TOM. Tuberculin skin test, Mycobacterium-specific PCR and interferon-gamma release assay cannot distinguish between active, inactive or post-infective conditions. According to these considerations, these methods may serve as supplementary assays for the final diagnosis. Having the appropriate diagnosis after surgical intervention and laboratory analysis, medical management should be continued by anti-tuberculosis chemotherapy. Hereby, we demonstrate two cases with primary TOM and provide an overview of the literature in the light of diagnostic and therapeutic guidelines in the management of TOM.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antitubercular Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Otitis Media / microbiology*
  • Otitis Media / pathology*
  • Otitis Media / therapy
  • Tuberculosis / diagnosis*
  • Tuberculosis / drug therapy*
  • Young Adult


  • Antitubercular Agents