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Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infection)

What is otitis media (OM)?

Otitis media is inflammation located in the middle ear. Otitis media can occur as a result of a cold, sore throat, or respiratory infection.

Facts about otitis media:

Who is at risk for getting ear infections?

While any child may develop an ear infection, the following are some of the factors that may increase your child's risk of developing ear infections:

What causes otitis media?

Middle ear infections are usually a result of a malfunction of the eustachian tube, a canal that links the middle ear with the throat area. The eustachian tube helps to equalize the pressure between the outer ear and the middle ear. When this tube is not working properly, it prevents normal drainage of fluid from the middle ear, causing a buildup of fluid behind the eardrum. When this fluid cannot drain, it allows for the growth of bacteria and viruses in the ear that can lead to acute otitis media. The following are some of the reasons that the eustachian tube may not work properly:

What are the different types of otitis media?

Different types of otitis media include the following:

What are the symptoms of otitis media?

The following are the most common symptoms of otitis media. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of otitis media may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is otitis media diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, your child's physician will inspect the outer ear(s) and eardrum(s) using an otoscope. The otoscope is a lighted instrument that allows the physician to see inside the ear. A pneumatic otoscope blows a puff of air into the ear to test eardrum movement.

Tympanometry, is a test that can be performed in most physicians' offices to help determine how the middle ear is functioning. It does not tell if the child is hearing or not, but helps to detect any changes in pressure in the middle ear. This is a difficult test to perform in younger children because the child needs to remain still and not cry, talk, or move.

A hearing test may be performed for children who have frequent ear infections.

Treatment for otitis media:

Specific treatment for otitis media will be determined by your child's physician based on the following:

Treatment may include:

If fluid remains in the ear(s) for longer than three months, your child's physician may suggest that small tubes be placed in the ear(s). This surgical procedure, called myringotomy, involves making a small opening in the eardrum to drain the fluid and relieve the pressure from the middle ear. A small tube is placed in the opening of the eardrum to ventilate the middle ear and to prevent fluid from accumulating. The child's hearing is restored after the fluid is drained. The tubes usually fall out on their own after six to twelve months.

Your child's surgeon may also recommend the removal of the adenoids (lymph tissue located in the space above the soft roof of the mouth, also called nasopharynx) if they are infected. Removal of the adenoids has shown to help some children with otitis media.

Treatment will depend upon the type of otitis media. Consult your child's physician regarding treatment options.

What are the effects of otitis media?

In addition to the symptoms of otitis media listed above, untreated otitis media can result in any/all of the following:

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