Middle Ear Infection
With this condition, the middle ear becomes infected and inflamed. The middle ear is located behind the eardrum.
The Middle Ear
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Bacteria and viruses both cause this condition.
Ear Infection Risks
Middle ear infections are more common in the winter. These factors increase your chance of developing middle ear infection:
- Recent viral infection (e.g., cold or flu)
- Recent sinusitis
- Exposure to second-hand smoke, usually cigarette smoke, but also from cooking and wood-heating
- Medical conditions that cause abnormalities of the eustachian tubes, such as:
- Cleft palate
- Down syndrome
- History of allergies (environmental allergies, food allergies)
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors.
Symptoms of an Ear Infection
- Ear pain
- Hearing loss (temporary, due to fluid accumulation)
- Decreased appetite, difficulty feeding
- Disturbed sleep
- Drainage from ear
- Difficulty with balance
Diagnosing an Ear Infection
The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. Most middle ear infections can be diagnosed by looking into the ear with a lighted instrument, called an otoscope.
The doctor will see if there is fluid or pus behind the eardrum. A small tube and bulb may be attached to the otoscope. This is to blow a light puff of air into the ear. The puff helps the doctor see if the eardrum is moving normally.
Other tests may include:
- Tympanometry — measures pressure in the middle ear and responsiveness of the eardrum; also used to check for fluid or pus
- Hearing test — may be done if you have had many ear infections
- Tympanocentesis — used to drain fluid or pus from the middle ear using a needle, or to check for bacteria
Ear Infection Treatments
MedicationOral antibiotics are commonly used to treat ear infections.
Some doctors may take a "wait and see" approach. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic for your child and ask you to use the medication if the pain or fever lasts for a certain number of days. This approach has been effective.
While antibiotics may be effective, it is important to discuss the risks and benefits of taking antibiotics with your doctor.
A virus causes a lot of ear infections. This type will not go away faster with antibiotics. Most middle ear infections (including bacterial ones) tend to improve on their own in 2-3 days.
Pain relievers can help reduce pain, fever and irritability.
Decongestants and antihistamines are not recommended to treat an ear infection.
Myringotomy is surgery done to open the eardrum. A tiny cut is made in the eardrum to drain fluid and pus.
Preventing Ear Infections
To reduce the chance of getting an ear infection:
- Avoid exposure to smoke.
- Keep allergy symptoms well controlled.
- Treat related conditions, such as GERD.
- Practice good hand washing.
- Consider getting a flu vaccine. Pneumococcal vaccine may prevent some ear infections caused by pneumococcus, but the overall effect on ear infections is not known.
- Ask your doctor about tympanostomy tubes. These tubes help equalize pressure behind the eardrum and prevent fluid build-up and infection.
- Xylitol is a natural sugar that is used as a sweetener in gum, candy and other types of food. Eating food with xylitol on a regular basis may help to reduce your risk of ear infections.
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Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.