Middle Ear Infection or Inflammation
(Otitis Media)

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Ear infection or inflammation (otitis media) facts

  • Otitis media (ear infection or inflammation) is the most common childhood condition for which antibiotics are prescribed.
  • Otitis media features fever, ear pain, and a feeling of fullness in the ear; as well as fussiness and feeding problems in young children.
  • Otitis media is usually an infection and/or inflammation of the middle ear.
  • Ear infection or inflammation causes fluid buildup in the middle ear.
  • A cold or other respiratory infection can lead to ear infections or inflammation.
  • Exposure to other children's colds as often occurs in daycare centers, raises the risk of contracting otitis media (ear infection or inflammation).
  • Bottlefeeding increases the risk of ear infection or inflammation in babies.
  • Middle ear pus causes pain and temporary hearing loss.
  • Rupture of the eardrum allows the pus to drain into the ear canal.
  • Otitis media (ear infection or inflammation) is treated with observation, antibiotics, or ear tubes.

What is otitis media (middle ear infection or inflammation)?

Otitis media is inflammation of the middle ear; however, many doctors consider otitis media to be either inflammation or infection of the middle ear. "Otitis" means inflammation of the ear, and "media" means middle. This inflammation often begins with infections that cause sore throats, colds or other respiratory problems, and spreads to the middle ear. Infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria, and can be acute or chronic.

Acute otitis media is usually of rapid onset and short duration. Acute otitis media is typically associated with fluid accumulation in the middle ear together with signs or symptoms of ear infection; a bulging eardrum usually accompanied by pain, or a perforated eardrum, often with drainage of purulent material (pus, also termed suppurative otitis media). Fever can be present.

Chronic otitis media is a persistent inflammation of the middle ear, typically for a minimum of a month. This is in distinction to an acute ear infection (acute otitis media) that usually lasts only several weeks. Following an acute infection, fluid (an effusion) may remain behind the ear drum (tympanic membrane) for up to three months before resolving. Chronic otitis media may develop after a prolonged period of time with fluid (effusion) or negative pressure behind the eardrum (tympanic membrane). Chronic otitis media can cause ongoing damage to the middle ear and eardrum, and there may be continuing drainage through a hole in the eardrum. Chronic otitis media often starts painlessly without fever. Ear pressure or popping can be persistent for months. Sometimes a subtle loss of hearing can be due to chronic otitis media.

Picture of the ear and adjacent structures.

Picture of the Ear Anatomy
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/18/2013

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Otitis Media - Effective Treatments Question: What treatments have been effective for your otitis media?
Ear Infection (Otitis Media) - Symptoms Question: What were the symptoms associated with an ear infection in you or your child?
Ear Infection (Otitis Media) - Surgery Experience Question: Did you or your child have surgery to treat chronic ear infections? Please describe your experience.
Ear Infection - Risk Factors Question: What risk factors do you or your child have for ear infections? How have they effected the frequency of your or your child's ear infections?
Ear Infection - Home Remedies Question: What home remedies have you found effective in treating middle ear infections?
Ear Infection - Prevention Question: What steps do you take to prevent middle ear infections?
Remedies for Childrenss Ear Infections

OTC Remedies for Ear Infections

Medical Author: Dennis S. Phillips, MD
Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Viewer Asks: Are there any over-the-counter remedies for a child with an ear infection?

Dr. Phillips Answers: While there exist over-the-counter (OTC) remedies and medications that can alleviate the pain and symptoms of an ear infection, there are no OTC measures that kill the bacteria in the middle ear space that actually cause the infection. ...


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