An Overview of a Middle Ear Infection
There are a few kinds of ear infections, but otitis media is the most common. It occurs when fluid and pus build up in the middle ear, behind the tympanic membrane (eardrum), causing ear pain. This is often due to a cold or allergies that can block drainage, introduce bacteria or viruses, and reason inflammation.
Ear infections are much more common in young children but can happen in adults as well. Most can be simply treated with or without antibiotics, but ear tube placement may be recommended for chronic otitis media. Otitis media with effusion (OME) is seen when there is fluid in the ear (often following a cold) but no active infection. An infection of the outer ear is called otitis external (swimmer’s ear).
Symptoms of chronic otitis media may contain hearing loss, chronic ear drainage, balance issues, facial weakness, deep ear pain, headache, fever, confusion, fatigue, and drainage or swelling behind the ear.
Babies and young children experience pain but they cannot tell their parents about their discomfort, so it’s essential to look for non-verbal clues that they may have an ear infection.
- Decreased appetite
- Unexplained fever
- Crying more than usual
- Difficulty sleeping
- Drainage from the ear
- Problems with balance or hearing
Though different kinds of ear infections can reason some similar symptoms, their causes differ.
A blockage of the eustachian tube that links the back of your throat with your middle ear sets the scene for otitis media. The tube can’t drain the middle ear if you have increased inflammation, mucus, or congestion as often occur with an upper respiratory infection or allergic rhinitis. Bacteria or viruses can then multiply in the middle ear and cause an ear infection.
Chronic otitis media (COM) indicates that fluid is present in the middle ear for six or more weeks. It’s a situation that usually happens over many years among people who have frequent ear trouble.
Accurate diagnosis of an ear infection needs a visit to your healthcare provider. He or she will use a special instrument (otoscope) to look inside the ear to determine what type of ear infection may be present. Imaging generally isn’t needed. However, if you have recurrent middle ear infections, a CT scan or MRI may be done to look for structural abnormalities or abscesses.
Many middle ear infections clear up by themselves after a couple of days. Your doctor can give advice you as to whether watching and waiting or a treatment is recommended.