What is middle ear infection?
An ear infection (acute otitis media) is most often a bacterial or viral infection that affects the middle ear, the air-filled space behind the eardrum that contains the tiny vibrating bones of the ear.
Ear infections frequently are painful because of inflammation and buildup of fluids in the middle ear.
How common is middle ear infection?
The condition is most common in children. According to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, middle ear infections occur in 80 percent of children by the time they reach age 3. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of middle ear infection?
The common symptoms of middle ear infection are:
- Ear pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Tugging or pulling at the ears
- Yellow, clear, or bloody discharge from the ears
- Loss of balance
- Problems hearing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Decreased appetite
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes middle ear infection?
There are a number of reasons why children get middle ear infections. They often stem from a prior infection of the respiratory tract that spreads to the ears. When the tube that connects the middle ear to the pharynx (Eustachian tube) is blocked, fluid will collect behind the eardrum. Bacteria will often grow in the fluid, causing pain and infection.
What increases my risk for middle ear infection?
There are many risk factors for middle ear infection, such as:
- Children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years are more susceptible to ear infections because of the size and shape of their eustachian tubes and because of their poorly developed immune systems.
- Group child care. Children cared for in group settings are more likely to get colds and ear infections than are children who stay home because they’re exposed to more infections, such as the common cold.
- Infant feeding. Babies who drink from a bottle, especially while lying down, tend to have more ear infections than do babies who are breast-fed.
- Seasonal factors. Ear infections are most common during the fall and winter when colds and flu are prevalent. People with seasonal allergies may have a greater risk of ear infections during seasonal high pollen counts.
- Poor air quality. Exposure to tobacco smoke or high levels of air pollution can increase the risk of ear infection.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is middle ear infection diagnosed?
Your doctor will first want to make sure they have your or your child’s medical history. Next, they will do a physical examination. During the exam, your doctor will look at the outer ear and eardrum using a lighted instrument called an otoscope to check for signs of redness, swelling, pus, and fluid.
Your doctor might also conduct a test called tympanometry to determine whether the middle ear is operating properly. For this test, a device is put inside your ear canal, changing the pressure and making the eardrum vibrate. The test measures these changes and records them on a graph. Your doctor will interpret the results.
How is middle ear infection treated?
There are a number of ways to treat middle ear infections. Your doctor will base treatment on your child’s age, health, and medical history. Doctors will also consider the following:
- The severity of the infection
- The ability of your child to tolerate antibiotics
- Opinion or preference of the parents
Depending on the severity of the infection, your doctor may tell you that the best option is to treat the pain and wait to see if symptoms go away. Ibuprofen or another fever and pain reducer is a common treatment to deal with the pain.
Symptoms lasting more than three days usually mean that antibiotics are necessary. However, if a virus is causing the infection, antibiotics won’t cure it.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage middle ear infection?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with middle ear infection:
- Prevent common colds and other illnesses. Teach your children to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly and to not share eating and drinking utensils. Teach your children to cough or sneeze into their arm crook. If possible, limit the time your child spends in group child care. A child care setting with fewer children may help. Try to keep your child home from child care or school when ill.
- Avoid secondhand smoke. Make sure that no one smokes in your home. Away from home, stay in smoke-free environments.
- Breast-feed your baby. If possible, breast-feed your baby for at least six months. Breast milk contains antibodies that may offer protection from ear infections.
- If you bottle-feed, hold your baby in an upright position. Avoid propping a bottle in your baby’s mouth while he or she is lying down. Don’t put bottles in the crib with your baby.
- Talk to your doctor about vaccinations. Ask your doctor about what vaccinations are appropriate for your child. Seasonal flu shots, pneumococcal and other bacterial vaccines may help prevent ear infections.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Ear infection (middle ear). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ear-infections/home/ovc-20199482. Accessed August 11, 2017.
Middle Ear Infection (Otitis). http://www.healthline.com/health/otitis#overview1. Accessed August 11, 2017.
Review Date: August 11, 2017 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019