Middle ear infection (otitis media) 

Introduction 

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Glue ear

In some cases the middle ear can become filled with fluid which can cause hearing difficulties. This is known as otitis media with effusion or ‘glue ear’.

Read more information on glue ear.

Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear common in younger children. 

Most ear infections occur in infants aged 6-18 months, though anyone can get an ear infection. For reasons that are unclear they are more common in boys than girls.

Signs that your child might have an ear infection include:

  • pulling, tugging, or rubbing their ear
  • a high temperature (38°C or above)
  • irritability
  • poor feeding
  • restlessness at night
  • coughing
  • runny nose
  • unresponsiveness to quiet sounds
  • loss of balance

Read more about the signs and symptoms of otitis media.

When to seek medical advice

Most ear infections clear up quickly so it is not always necessary to see your GP.

However, it is recommended that you contact your GP for advice if:

  • symptoms show no sign of improvement after 24 hours
  • your child seems to be in a lot of pain
  • you notice fluid coming from the ear

You should also contact your GP if your child is more vulnerable to the effects of infection, for example due to certain medical conditions.

Treating an ear infection

Most ear infections clear up within a couple of days. Paracetamol or ibuprofen (appropriate for the child's age) can be used to relieve pain and high temperature.

Antibiotics are usually only required if symptoms persist or are particularly severe.

Read more about the treatment of otitis media.

What causes an ear infection?

The middle ear is directly behind the eardrum. It is made up of three tiny lever-like bones that carry sound vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear.

Most cases of otitis media are caused by a bacterial or viral infection. Often an infection of the respiratory tract (sinuses, throat, airways or lungs) such as the cold or flu can spread into the middle ear.

Younger children are particularly vulnerable to this type of infection as their middle ear is smaller and narrower than an adults' which makes it easier for an infection to take hold.

The risk of developing an ear infection is increased if your child:

  • attends a nursery or day care centre – this increases exposure to infection from other children
  • is exposed to passive smoking
  • is not breastfed

Read more about the causes of ear infection.

Complications

Complications of ear infections are uncommon but when they do occur they can be troublesome and include:

  • infection spreading into the bones underneath the ear (the mastoids) which is known as mastoiditis
  • the infection spreads into the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord (the meninges), which is known as meningitis

Read more about the complications of otitis media.




Page last reviewed: 23/04/2012

Next review due: 23/04/2014

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Comments

The 2 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

mona aeysha said on 26 August 2013

I am not a doctor but I will write my personal experience for anybody who could get some help out of it.
a week or so before my ear was blocked. and my gp told me that wait for 2 to 3 weeks. I was in great trouble with fullness of ears, and hearing loss.....then i checked all the advice on internet......looked like I will never become the person before with full hearing ability.....
doctor told me to get steam, and someone told me that yawning and hard swallowing will help....then I starting taking steam ...no progress...
finally, i laid down straight , head tilted towards earth.....and tried swallowing hard, and yawning ....I also used olive oil to massage the outer parts of ear and then around the neck , behind the ear...all area........
you recite something in the time of going to bed ....and try to get yawn....yawn and yawn....then swallow then yawn...and a little massage.....
suddenly my ears opened....and I was relieved in one day...no more wait.
I had mucus problem..so i started warm water to drink frequently ....now my mucus in my throat is finished....so i feel better for my ears....hope it will help someone.
thanks for reading. .

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Jeffdobson said on 01 May 2013

I was in such severe pain I was climbing the walls. Antibiotics stopped working and I read on a forum that someone used sinusoothe nasal spray. I didn't know nasal sprays could be used for ear infections but apparantly that is the only way you can reach the ear infection. Within a couple of days the ear infection was gone.

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