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Ear, Nose, and Throat Disorders

Foul smell ears/adoptee with cleft palate



Our newly adopted 3 1/2 year old from China has a repaired cleft lip and unrepaired cleft palate. Since getting her 12/3/02 I have noticed that her ears have a foul smell. No evidence of drainage or illness but the smell is so powerful that the hair that hangs by her face, her pillow are affected. THe pediatric ENT was not able to share with me why this is. Her ears are full of wax and they want to put in tubes. But I am curious about the smell. I have four other children and work as a midwife. I am not crazy but waht to do???? Thanks,


You are (likely) not crazy. Children with cleft lip and palate are very prone to recurrent ear infections due to a failure of the eustachian tubes to work properly. This is, in turn, related to the cleft palate. Almost all children with cleft palate will require tubes in their ears because of this dysfunction. It is unusual for you to detect an odor from the ears without obvious drainage. In such a setting, the ear canals may become colonized with different bacteria or even yeast that can cause an odor. A very common treatment for such a condition is to irrigate the ears with a diluted vinegar and alcohol solution. However, it is first necessary for your physician to check your daughter`s ears and make sure there are no other problems - perforations, acute external ear infections, lesions, etc. Often, parents will mix up this ear irrigation solution themselves at home and use it on a regular basis to help keep the ears clean. 

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Response by:

Daniel   Choo, MD Daniel Choo, MD
Associate Professor and Director, Division of Otology/Neurotology
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati