Join for Just $16 A Year
- Discounts on travel and everyday savings
- Subscription to AARP The Magazine
- Free membership for your spouse or partner
A middle ear infection, also called otitis, occurs when the area behind the eardrum becomes inflamed as a result of a bacteria or virus. The condition is most common in children. According to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford, middle ear infections occur in 80 percent of children by the time they reach age 3 (LPCH).
Most middle ear infections occur during the winter and early spring. Often, middle ear infections go away without any need for medication. However, if pain persists or if you have a fever, you should seek medical treatment.
There are two types of middle ear infections: acute otitis media (AOM) and otitis media with effusion (OME).
This type of ear infection comes on quickly and is accompanied by swelling and redness in the ear. Fever, ear pain, and hearing impairment often occur as a result of fluid and/or mucous that is trapped in the middle ear.
After an initial infection has gone away, sometimes mucus and fluid will continue to build up in the middle ear. This can cause the feeling of the ear being “full” and affect your ability to hear clearly.
There are a variety of symptoms associated with middle ear infections. Some of the most common are:
There are a number of reasons why children get middle ear infections. They often stem from a prior infection of the respiratory tract that spreads to the ears. When the tube that connects the middle ear to the pharynx (Eustachian tube) is blocked, fluid will collect behind the eardrum. Bacteria will often grow in the fluid, causing pain and infection.
Your pediatrician will first want to make sure they have your child’s medical history. Next, they will do a physical examination. During the exam, your doctor will look at the outer ear and eardrum using a lighted instrument called an otoscope to check for signs of redness, swelling, pus, and fluid.
Your doctor might also conduct a test called tympanometry to determine whether the middle ear is operating properly. For this test, a device is put inside your ear canal, changing the pressure and making the eardrum vibrate. These changes are measured and recorded on a graph, which is interpreted by your doctor.
There are a number of approaches to treating middle ear infections. Treatment will be based on your child’s age, health, and medical history. Doctors will also take into consideration the following:
Depending on the severity of the infection, your doctor may tell you that the best option is to treat the pain and wait to see if symptoms go away. Ibuprofen or another fever and pain reducer is a common treatment to deal with the pain.
Symptoms lasting more than three days usually mean that antibiotics are necessary. However, if a virus is causing the infection, then antibiotics will not cure it.
Complications resulting from ear infections are rare, but they can occur. Some complications associated with middle ear infections are:
There are ways to lower your child’s risk of getting ear infections.
Written by: Shannon Johnson
Published on Aug 15, 2012
Updated on Feb 15, 2013
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.
Member access to health and insurance products and services at AARPhealthcare.com.
Members can get an instant quote with AARP® Dental Insurance administered by Delta Dental Insurance Company.
Members can save on eyewear with AARP® Vision Discounts provided by EyeMed.
Caregiving can be a lonely journey, but AARP offers resources that can help.