Understanding Middle Ear Infections

Otitis Media

Overview
Definition: Otitis Media

The medical term for a middle ear infection is otitis media. Otitis means ear inflammation and media means middle. It typically begins with sore throat or
cold from a viral or bacterial infection. Children are more likely than adults to get ear infections.

The infection spreads to the middle ear, leading to inflammation of the tissue and fluid build-up, which is why ear infections are painful.

 

Ear infections often clear up on their own. Other times, antibiotics are needed. Chronic or persistent infections may lead to complications such as hearing loss or ruptured eardrums. Drainage tubes are sometimes inserted to equalize pressure and help drain fluid.

 
Anatomy
Anatomy of the Ear
Ear Regions

The ear is our sense organ for hearing and balance. It consists of three regions, the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. 

Causes
Infection

Otitis media typically begins with sore throat or cold from a viral or bacterial infection. The infection spreads from the throat through the eustachian tube and into the middle ear, which becomes swollen and inflamed. The swelling seals off the eustachian tube, making it difficult to equalize pressure and may lead to severe pain. The irritated tissues secrete fluid that accumulates in the middle ear. The build up of fluid also prevents the ossicles from vibrating properly causing hearing problems. Finally, in extreme cases, the pressure from the excess fluid may rupture the eardrum.

Airborne viruses or bacteria can trigger inflammation that may lead to an ear infection

 
Shape of Eustachian Tube

The eustachian (or auditory) tube is a passageway that connects the middle ear to the throat. A child’s Eustachian tube is shorter, narrower, and more horizontal than an adult’s. For this reason, it does not drain the middle ear as well and becomes blocked more easily.

Disease Information
Different Types of Otitis Media
Acute Otitis Media

Acute otitis media is typically caused by
a viral infection, resulting in ear pain and a
reddened, inflamed, and bulging ear drum.
Occasionally, inflammation of the eustachian
tube may progress to a bacterial infection. Acute otitis media usually resolves quickly without damage to the ear drum.

 
 
Risk Factors
Risk Factors Include:

AGE

Group Child Care

Infant feeding

SeasonAL

Additionally:

  • Poor air quality. Tobacco smoke or high levels of pollution exposure may increase risk to developing an ear infection

Acute Otitis Media

An otoscope is a lighted instrument for looking inside the ear canal that helps health care providers look for symptoms of an ear infection. In acute otitis media – the eardrum will appear reddened and bulging outward (from the fluid trapped behind it).

Diagnosing & Treatment
Diagnosis
 
Treatment

It is now known that most acute ear infections will improve without treatment. Therefore, pediatricians now recommend a wait-and-see policy if the child is older than 6 months, has mild symptoms, and is in good health.

Antibiotics are recommended if the child is younger, the symptoms are severe, and for chronic infections. Pain relievers and warm compresses may be used for pain.

 

In cases of serous otitis media, if fluid remains in the middle ear for months after the infection has cleared up, drainage tubes may be necessary. These are small plastic or metal tubes placed through the eardrum to equalize the pressure inside the middle ear and allow fluid to drain out. These tubes usually fall out on their own when they are no longer needed.

 
Healthy Tips
Facts and Tips for Healthy Ears
  • Since colds and sore throats often lead to otitis media, young children who are prone to them should not play with sick friends.
     

  • Ear infections are more common in fall and winter.
     

  • Exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke increases the risk of ear infection, especially in children prone to repeat infections.
     

  • Nursing from a bottle lying down increases the risk of infection.
     

  • Breast feeding for 6 months provides antibodies that offer protection from ear infections.
     

  • Research has shown that cold and allergy medications such as antihistamines and decongestants are not helpful in preventing ear infections.