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Acute otitis media (AOM) is a painful type of ear infection. It occurs when the area behind the eardrum called the middle ear becomes inflamed and infected.
The following behaviors in children often mean they have AOM:
Infants and children may have one or more of the following symptoms:
The eustachian tube is the tube that runs from the middle of the ear to the back of the throat. An AOM occurs when your child’s eustachian tube becomes swollen or blocked and traps fluid in the middle ear. The trapped fluid can become infected. In young children, the eustachian tube is shorter and more horizontal than it is in older children and adults. This makes it more likely to become infected.
The eustachian tube can become swollen or blocked for several reasons:
The risk factors for AOM include:
Genetics also plays a role in increasing your child’s risk of AOM.
Your child’s doctor may use one or more of the following methods to diagnose AOM:
Your child’s doctor uses an instrument called an otoscope to look into your child’s ear and detect:
During a tympanometry test, your child’s doctor uses a small instrument to measure the air pressure in your child’s ear and determine if the eardrum is ruptured.
During a reflectometry test, your child’s doctor uses a small instrument that makes a sound near your child’s ear. Your child’s doctor can determine if there’s fluid in the ear by listening to the sound reflected back from their ear.
Your doctor may perform a hearing test to determine if your child is experiencing hearing loss.
The majority of AOM infections resolve without antibiotic treatment. Home treatment and pain medications are usually recommended before antibiotics are tried to avoid the overuse of antibiotics and reduce the risk of adverse reactions from antibiotics. Treatments for AOM include:
Your doctor may suggest the following home care treatments to relieve your child’s pain while waiting for the AOM infection to go away:
Your doctor may also prescribe eardrops for pain relief and other pain relievers. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if your symptoms don’t go away after a few days of home treatment.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if your child’s infection doesn’t respond to treatment or if your child has recurrent ear infections. Surgery options for AOM include:
Your child’s doctor may recommend that your child’s adenoids be surgically removed if they’re enlarged or infected and your child has recurrent ear infections.
Your doctor may suggest a surgical procedure to insert tiny tubes in your child’s ear. The tubes allow air and fluid to drain from the middle ear.
AOM infections generally get better without any complications, but the infection may occur again. Your child may also experience temporary hearing loss for a short time. But your child’s hearing should return quickly after treatment. Sometimes, AOM infections can cause:
In rare cases, an infection in the mastoid bone in the skull (mastoiditis) or an infection in the brain (meningitis) can occur.
You can reduce the chances of your child having AOM by doing the following:
Written by: Rose Kivi and Winnie Yu
Medically reviewed on: Jan 05, 2016: Mark R Laflamme MD
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