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- Middle ear infection definition and facts
- What is middle ear infection or inflammation?
- What are the symptoms of acute middle ear infection in children and adults?
- How common is acute middle ear infection or inflammation?
- Are ear infections contagious?
- Why do infants and young children tend to have ear infections?
- How do you get a middle ear infection?
- What are the risk factors for acute and middle ear infection?
- How does the Eustachian tube change with age?
- Which specialties of doctors treat middle ear infections?
- How is acute middle ear infection diagnosed?
- How is acute middle ear infection or inflammation treated?
- Are there any home remedies for acute middle ear infection?
- What causes chronic middle ear infection or inflammation?
- What happens to the eardrum in chronic middle ear infection or inflammation?
- What happens to the eardrum if a hole develops in the eardrum?
- How is chronic middle ear infection or inflammation treated?
- What are the goals of chronic otitis media surgery?
- What is serious middle ear infection or inflammation?
- What limitations are there on a child with middle ear infection or inflammation?
- Can otitis media (middle ear infection or inflammation) be prevented?
Quick GuideEar Infection Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment
Which specialties of doctors treat middle ear infections?
The majority of children and adults are diagnosed and treated by either pediatricians, primary care physicians and by emergency or urgent care medical providers. ENT specialists may be consulted for some individuals. Rarely, a neurologist or neurosurgeon may be needed if a severe infection that may extend to other organ systems occur.
How is acute middle ear infection diagnosed?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) have determined the criteria which are needed to diagnose acute otitis media (AOM); acute onset, middle ear effusion (MEE), and middle ear inflammation. The new guidelines describe this as "moderate to severe bulging of the tympanic membrane (ear drum) or new onset of otorrhea (ear drainage) not due to external otitis (inflammation of the ear canal) or mild bulging of the ear drum, and recent ear pain (holding, tugging, rubbing ear in a nonverbal child) or intense reddening of the ear drum." The guideline also strongly recommends that clinicians should not diagnose AOM without the presence of MEE. Recurrent acute otitis media is defined as at least three well-documented and separate acute otitis media episodes in 6 months or 4 well-documented and separate AOM episodes in the past 12 months with at least 1 in the past 6 months. There is no definitive lab test for acute otitis media.
Identification of the three criteria is dependent on clinical observation; middle ear effusion and middle ear inflammation are the most difficult to observe and as a consequence there are studies that suggest acute otitis media is over diagnosed. One method that helps determine acute otitis media versus otitis media with effusion is pneumatic otoscopy (the normal eardrum moves readily with pressure changes) and the appearance of the tympanic membrane (acute otitis media has abnormal appearance, otitis media with effusion does not). However, not everyone is skilled at this technique; Pediatricians, Family Practice, ENT specialists, and ER doctors that work in pediatric ER's are likely to be skilled in the diagnostic procedure.
How is acute middle ear infection or inflammation treated?
The treatment for acute otitis media varies depending upon the age and symptoms of the child. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommend the following:
(Otorrhea with AOM or Unilateral or
Bilateral AOM with Severe Symptoms)
(Bilateral AOM without Otorrhea)
(Unilateral AOM without Otorrhea)
|6 months-23 months||Antibiotics||Antibiotics if severe illness;
*Observation without antibiotics if non-severe illness
|> 2 years||Antibiotics||Antibiotics if severe illness;
*Observation if non-severe illness
|Antibiotics if severe illness;
*Observation without if non-severe illness
*Observation is an appropriate option only when follow-up can be ensured and antibacterial agents can be started if symptoms persist or worsen within 2-3 days. The guidelines also recommend "shared decision making" with the caregiver. Non-severe illness is represented by mild ear pain and fever <39 C (102.2 F) in the past 24 hours. Severe illness is defined as moderate to severe otalgia (ear pain) or any ear pain for at least 48 hours or fever 39 C. These 2013 guidelines are current.
If antibiotics are initiated, amoxicillin is usually recommended as the first line treatment. This is usually prescribed for 10 days. About 10% of children do not respond within the first 48-72 hours of treatment, and antibiotic therapy may have to be changed. Even after antibiotic treatment, some children are left with some fluid in the middle ear which can cause temporary hearing loss lasting for up to 3 to 6 weeks. In most children, this fluid eventually disappears spontaneously (on its own). Ceftriaxone (50mg/kg/d) injection is recommended for children that cannot take oral antibiotics; three days of this antibiotic is usually more effective than a single injection.
Children who have recurring bouts of otitis media may be referred to an otolaryngologist (ear nose and throat specialist or ENT). Some of these children may benefit from having an ear tube placed (tympanostomy tube) to permit fluid to drain from the middle ear. In addition, if a child has a bulging eardrum and is experiencing severe pain, a procedure to lance the eardrum (myringotomy) may be recommended to release the pus. The eardrum usually heals within a week. Prophylactic antibiotic therapy has not been shown to decrease the frequency of ear infections in those children with recurrent AOM.
Although treatment may cure an ear infection, it is possible for the ear to become re-infected.