What is Otitis Media?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Otitis media is an inflammation of the middle ear, the section of the ear just behind the ear drum. This condition is extremely common in children because their immune systems are weaker than adults, and they have certain physical characteristics which make them more prone to ear problems. Classically, otitis media develops when a viral or bacterial infection elsewhere in the body spreads to the ear.

Ear pain may be a sign of otitis media.
Ear pain may be a sign of otitis media.

In acute otitis media, the onset of the infection is rapid, and the condition is usually self limiting, often resolving itself with supportive care such as rest and fluids. When the condition presents with effusion, it means that fluid is building up in the middle ear, and more medical interventions may be needed to keep the patient comfortable and resolve the infection. The chronic suppurative form of this condition involves perforation of the ear drum and a collection of fluid.

Inflammation of the middle ear is referred to as otitis media.
Inflammation of the middle ear is referred to as otitis media.

A child with a middle ear infection experiences pain in the ear, along with a ringing sensation and dizziness. Ear infections are extremely common, making these symptoms very familiar to many parents with young children. When these symptoms appear, home care includes rest, fluids and a nutritious diet to encourage the body to fight the infection on its own. If the symptoms persist for more than a few days or they become more severe, it is time to go to the doctor.

Otitis media can affect the section of the ear just behind the eardrum.
Otitis media can affect the section of the ear just behind the eardrum.

Doctors can examine the ear and take samples to determine what is causing the infection. Depending on the nature of the infection, the doctor may prescribe medications such as antibiotics to halt the infection. Children who experience chronic otitis media may have surgery to implant drainage tubes in the ears so that fluid cannot build up and cause infections. This surgery is recommended to increase comfort, and reduce the risk of hearing loss or damage as a result of severe chronic infection.

In very young children who cannot verbalize, it can be tricky to detect the signs of otitis media. The child will be restless and upset, but the cause may not be immediately obvious. Some clues that the ears are the source of the pain and irritation include shaking the head, pulling at the ear, or crying when the ear is handled or when loud noises occur. As a child ages, he or she should literally grow out of ear infections as the body grows and the anatomical issues which contribute to the development of ear infections resolve themselves.

A child with a middle ear infection experiences pain in the ear, as well as a ringing sensation and dizziness.
A child with a middle ear infection experiences pain in the ear, as well as a ringing sensation and dizziness.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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