Otitis media is another name for a middle-ear infection. It means an infection behind your eardrum. This kind of ear infection can happen after any condition that keeps fluid from draining from the middle ear. These conditions include allergies, a cold, a sore throat, or a respiratory infection.
More than 80% of children have at least one episode of otitis media by the time they are 3 years of age. Middle-ear infections are common in children, but they can also happen in adults. An ear infection in an adult may mean a more serious problem than in a child. So you may need additional tests. If you have an ear infection, you should see your health care provider for treatment.
Infections can affect the middle ear in several ways. They are:
You are more likely to get an ear infection if you:
The middle ear connects to the throat by a canal called the Eustachian tube. This tube helps even out the pressure between the outer ear and the middle ear. A cold or allergy can irritate the tube or cause the area around it to swell. This can keep fluid from draining from the middle ear. The fluid builds up behind the eardrum. Bacteria and viruses can grow in this fluid. The bacteria and viruses cause the middle-ear infection.
Common symptoms of a middle-ear infection in adults are:
Common symptoms of a middle-ear infection in children are:
These symptoms may be the same as for other conditions. It’s important to talk with your health care provider if you think you or your child have a middle-ear infection. If you have a high fever, severe pain behind your ear, or paralysis in your face, see your provider as soon as you can.
The health care provider will take a medical history and do a physical exam. He or she will look at the outer ear and eardrum with an otoscope. The otoscope is a lighted tool that lets your provider see inside the ear. A pneumatic otoscope blows a puff of air into the ear to check how well your eardrum moves. If you eardrum doesn’t move well, it may mean you have fluid behind it. A hearing test may be done in those with frequent ear infections.
A middle-ear infection may be treated with:
Your health care provider may also have you try auto-insufflation. This helps adjust the air pressure in your ear. For this, you pinch your nose and gently exhale. This forces air back through the Eustachian tube.
The exact treatment for your ear infection will depend on the type of infection you have. In general, if your symptoms don’t get better in 48 to 72 hours, contact your health care provider.
Middle-ear infections can cause long-term problems if not treated. They can lead to:
Sometimes fluid stays in the middle ear even after you take antibiotics and the infection goes away. In this case, your health care provider may suggest that a small tube be placed in your ear. The tube is put at the opening of the eardrum. The tube keeps fluid from building up and relieves pressure in the middle ear. It can also help you hear better. This surgery is called myringotomy. This is commonly required in children but not often done in adults. The tubes usually fall out on their own after 8 months to a year.