What Is Otitis Media?

Otitis media is the inflammation or infection of the middle ear (the area between the inner ear and the ear drum), including the duct Eustachian tube. Along with otitis externa, otitis media is a category of ear disorder that is commonly called "earache." Otitis media is most common in infants and young children.

Causes of otitis media

The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the throat. This duct is protected by a thin shield known as a membrane. Sometimes, bacteria and viruses that usually breed in the throat can cross into the middle ear, causing an infection.

Middle ear infection occurs most commonly in winter, often following a cold. Some factors that may cause otitis media include daycare conditions or crowded living, respiratory illness, and second-hand smoke exposure. It can also be caused by close contact with children who have ear infections, allergies that cause chronic congestion. Having a cleft palate increases the risk of middle ear infection.

Symptoms of otitis media

Otitis media can be acute, serous, or chronic. Symptoms of acute middle ear infection are pain, fever, and irritability. Serous otitis media occur if there is a fluid build-up in the ear. Here, the child may experience temporary impairment in the infected ear or hearing loss.

Chronic otitis media is often caused by (or complicated by) a hole in the eardrum as a result of any of the following: blocked Eustachian tube, acute infection, chemical or heat burns, injury from a foreign object entering the ear, and injury from sudden changes in air pressure. More serious complications of middle ear infection include brain infections and facial paralysis.

How otitis media is diagnosed?

Otitis media is usually diagnosed based on a description and visual examination of the symptoms. The eardrum normally appears swollen and red. If there is a pus discharge, a sample is analyzed to know what type of bacteria causes the infection. The doctor will perform a tympanometry if there is a fluid build-up in the middle ear. This simple hearing test measures the pressure on the eardrums.

How to treat otitis media?

Otitis media can be treated with antibiotics. However, since many cases of middle ear infections are caused by viruses, many doctors suggest that a period of watchful waiting is appropriate for infants and children who do not have recurrent infections. Cold medications are prescribed to keep the Eustachian tube from becoming blocked. Pain relievers care also used to ease pain.

How to prevent otitis media?

Otitis media is difficult to prevent since many children are susceptible to colds. Reduce the risk of catching colds by washing the child’s hands regularly. Breast-feeding may also lower the risk among infants and young children as it helps boost their immune system.