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Remembered Today:

Treatment for ear infections in trenches

Steff Jacks

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Doing some research on Private Allen who was killed in 1917. His records show that he potentially  suffered from  Otitis media or Middle ear infection. 

Can anyone tell me what the treatment for this was? His record shows him as being in a field ambulance for this. I'm unsure where this field ambulance was positioned as well?

Any help appreciated.




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War diaries for both Field Ambulances will be available currently as free downloads from the National Archive if you sign in with your account. If you don't have an account even that can be set up as part of placing your first order. Just click on "sign in" on any page of the online National Archive catalogue and follow the instructions. No financial details are requested.

96 Field Ambulance November 1915 to August 1919 can be found in the National Archive catalogue here https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C7353626

97 Field Ambulance November 1915 to July 1919 can be found here https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C7353627

Both were attached to the 30th Division. The 'C.P.' shown on the extract above stands for County Palatine. Both the Field Ambulances and the Royal Engineers units of the 30th Division when it deployed overseas were associated with that area.https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/30th-division/

Alternatively if you don't want to download the files and you subscribe to Ancestry, then you can scroll through the War Diaries there.

Looks like after a couple of days at the 97th Field Ambulance he was then moved on to the 30th Divisional Rest Station, spending over two weeks there.


P.S. To keep the forum in the copyright polices good books can you credit the source of any image you post. Thanks :)

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Thanks for this info Peter. Yes, my original document was from Ancestry too. 

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23 hours ago, Steff Jacks said:

His records show that he potentially  suffered from  Otitis media or Middle ear infection. 

Can anyone tell me what the treatment for this was?

I'm not a medic ... but I believe chronic and acute Otitis media and its symptoms can be caused by secretions/liquid/cattarh? in the middle ear causing pressure on the ear drum etc. There could have been infection but they were in a time before anti-biotics. So ...

I think that treatment for OM back then was possbly the use of inhalation of steam and the likes of menthol etc from a hot water bath/bowl/inhaler to clear sinues in the head and the Eustachian tubes thus allowing for draining of the fluid from the middle ear to the back of the throat to relieve the pressure on the eardrum.  Possibly also the placing of warm compresses over the external ear areas to help alleviate the pain and possibly to soften the gunk and to open up things.  Likely pain killers too. 

That's sort of what I remember from being a snotty-nosed kid oh so long ago [not that long ago - but nearer the war than to the present! :(]


OK, now we need the likes of @Dai Bach y Sowldiwr 

For a case of 'hysterical deafness', in a man with chronic OM and after exposure to gunfire in the UK, I recall reading a contemporary account of UK hospital treatment including a mock operation with some anaesthesia, minor incisions behind his ears and the simultaneous loud banging of metal close to him to shake the man out of it - apparently it worked and his deafness was cured!!


Edited by Matlock1418
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Thanks Matlock. Even in the antibiotic era, otitis media has the potential to cause complications. The middle ear is that cavity behind the ear drum which contains the small bones and is connected to the back of the throat by the Eustachian tube.  When that tube blocks, there is potential for infections to take hold, causing straight forward earache - otitis media. 

Before antibiotics, there was a greater likelihood of infections becoming persistent, sometimes causing the drum to burst resulting in a discharge and a runny ear -chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM).

This could cause hearing loss, temporarily until the drum healed,  or permanently if it didn't. 

Less common but more dangerous was the spread of infection to the bone surrounding the cavity - mastoiditis or a mastoid abscess. This needed surgery to scoop out the infected bone.

Potentially fatal was the spread to the brain or meninges, causing meningitis and/or a cerebral abscess.

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13 minutes ago, Dai Bach y Sowldiwr said:

Thanks Matlock

Your'e welcome Dai - I never know if you tongue is in your cheek when you so reply. :D

I guess I wasn't too wrong - certainly as you say the complications of OM could/can be quite horrific - and certainly initially sore, and for a while longer I would think. 

Content warning [Probably not necessary for you Dai]: I have, in 'real life' come across a chap who said the pain was much relieved when his eardrum burst! - but the blood and yellow gunk that then poured out of his ear was horrible for us to look at!!  [I think he fully recovered with antibiotics]


Edited by Matlock1418
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6 hours ago, Matlock1418 said:

I have, in 'real life' come across a chap who said the pain was much relieved when his eardrum burst! -

Yes, quite true.

Nature's way of solving the problem. Natural myringotomy.

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8 hours ago, Dai Bach y Sowldiwr said:


Is that Welsh or Greek? :D [Actually I looked it up as Latin]

Confirmed what I thought - myringotomy = The creation of an incision/hole in the eardrum to let the fluid out [a bit akin to nowadays young kids getting a ear grommet(s) fitted]

Was wondering about that draining of the middle ear as a possible treatment in the trenches/FA/Hosps during the war ?? 

Possible? Do you know/have you heard/read about it being done back then?


Edit: I also wondered if rum might have been used, taken orally as a form of pain killer.  I'm thinking aspirin was around/used.  Beyond that and morphine what other pain relief might they have used?  Would ether and/or chloroform have been used for such purposes, or were those just for anesthesia and operations ?

Edited by Matlock1418
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I don't think it would have thought it would have been used except very rarely.
Earache due to straightforward ear infection (Otitis media) is generally  a disease of children.
Most would recover spontaneously, however a few might persist into adulthood as CSOM.
In these cases, the drum will already be perforated, so myringotomy would be superfluous.

As a specific treatment for a very painful otitis media, the numbers can't have been very many. I would imagine that first line treatment would have been low tech warm olive oil and as you say, a ration of rum.

Although myringotomy as a procedure has been described as a procedure for several hundreds of years, as a specific treatment for glue ear in children, it only really took off after the second world war, as new plastic or vinyl tubes and grommets were invented.

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