Otitis media (oh-TIE-tis ME-dee-uh) means the middle ear is infected or inflamed. It is the most common reason for young children to visit their primary care provider. Ear infections are usually seen in children less than three years of age, but anyone of any age can get an ear infection. There are 2 main types of otitis media: acute otitis media with effusion, and chronic otitis media with effusion. Effusion (ef-FYOO-zhun) means fluid in the middle ear space. Acute otitis media starts suddenly with fever, pain and irritability. Chronic otitis media with effusion means there is fluid in the middle ear space for 3 months or more.
Acute otitis media with effusion is caused by germs or viruses that grow. As they grow, they cause pus to form behind the eardrum. This infection is usually very painful. Acute otitis media without effusion is a very early infection before the middle ear fluid has formed. The eardrum is usually red and painful.
Chronic otitis media is less painful than acute otitis media, with or without effusion. This type of infection may occur when the eustachian (yoo-STAY-shun) tube, the tube leading from the middle ear to the throat, is not ventilating the ear correctly. Fluid cannot drain and it builds up behind the eardrum. This type of otitis media is not effectively treated with antibiotics.
These types of ear infections can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss if not treated. If your child shows signs of ear infection, he or she should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible.
When it comes on suddenly, you may notice:
If your child is old enough to tell you, he may complain of:
Some children with acute otitis media will be treated with antibiotics. If your doctor orders medicine, make sure you give all the medicine, even though your child feels better. Your child needs to take all the medicine to completely cure the ear infection. Often, ear infections will clear on their own without antibiotics. Tylenol® or Motrin® may be given for the fever, pain, and irritability.
While most children get ear infections, there are a few things parents can do to try to prevent them:
After your child has taken the prescribed medicine, the doctor will want to check the ears again. Make an appointment with your child’s doctor in 2 weeks for him to be checked again.
Some children may need to have a hearing test as part of their follow-up exam. Your doctor may do this in the office or he may have an audiologist do the test.
If you need a doctor for your child, call the Nationwide Children's Hospital Referral and Information Line at (614) 722-KIDS.
HH-I-54 1/80, Revised 10/13 Copyright 1980, Nationwide Children’s Hospital