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Welcome to our health education library. The information shared below is provided to you as an educational and informational source only and is not intended to replace a medical examination or consultation, or medical advice given to you by a physician or medical professional.

Middle Ear Infection – Otitis Media

Infections of the ear generally occur in the outer ear (otitis externa) or the middle ear (otitis media). They may be classified as either “acute,” which means the infection lasts for only a short time, or “chronic,” when the infection persists or recurs.

Middle ear infection is most common among children, although it can also affect adults. The ailment often follows a cold and causes ear pain and fever.

What causes middle ear infection?

A cold, allergy or irritants often cause the eustachian tube, which runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat, to become blocked and fail to drain fluid. This may breed bacteria, viruses or fungi and lead to infection. In acute cases, the infection clears up either by itself or with medical attention.

Middle ear infection largely affects children because their small, narrow eustachian tubes can easily be clogged by fluid or wax buildup.

Who is at risk of developing middle ear infection?

Children or adults who have had recent ear infections are sensitive to changes in climate or who have a low resistance to colds or various infections are at risk of developing middle ear infection.

What are the symptoms of middle ear infection?

Middle ear infection is manifested in a number of symptoms, including:

  • Earache
  • Ear discharge
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Fever
  • Temporary hearing loss, which may persist for a few weeks even after the infection has cleared
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Children who are too young to express themselves may appear irritable and fussy and may tug at their ears.

How is middle ear infection diagnosed?

Any sign of ear infection should be brought to the attention of a doctor. During evaluation, the doctor will take a complete medical history of the patient, particularly if he/she has had any ear infection in the past. The doctor will ask the patient to describe his/her symptoms and will examine the ears with an otoscope.

During ear examination, the doctor will look for signs of swelling or bulging, redness, fluid or discharge, scratches or perforation of the eardrum. The doctor may also check for any damage to the eardrum.

How is middle ear infection treated?

A doctor treating a patient for middle ear infection will primarily relieve the pain that comes with the ailment. He may recommend a warm compress over the ear or the use of pain-relieving eardrops or over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

If the pain and other symptoms have not cleared in about one to three days, the doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics to treat the infection.

For children suffering from ear fluid or discharge, the doctor may insert small tubes into the ears to drain the discharge and open up the ear canal. This procedure is called tympanostomy and is done under general anesthesia. The tubes fall out by themselves over time; if they don’t, the doctor will remove them in an outpatient procedure.

What are the complications of middle ear infection?

Like most ear infections, a middle ear infection when left untreated may lead to the following complications:

  • Recurring chronic ear infection
  • Ruptured eardrum, ear abscess or cyst (cholesteatoma)
  • Temporary hearing loss
  • Infection of the bones around the skull (mastoiditis)
  • Infection of the brain (meningitis)

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