What is a middle ear infection?
A middle ear infection, also called otitis media, occurs when a virus or bacteria cause the area behind the eardrum to become inflamed. 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. Most middle ear infections occur during the winter and early spring. Often, middle ear infections go away without any medication. However, you should seek medical treatment if pain persists or you have a fever.
What are the types of middle ear infections?
There are two types of middle ear infections: acute otitis media (AOM) and otitis media with effusion (OME).
Acute otitis media: This type of ear infection comes on quickly and is accompanied by swelling and redness in the ear behind and around the ear drum. Fever, ear pain, and hearing impairment often occur as a result of trapped fluid and/or mucous in the middle ear.
Otitis media with effusion: After an infection goes away, sometimes mucous 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.
What causes a middle ear infection?
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.
What are the symptoms of a middle ear infection?
There are a variety of symptoms associated with middle ear infections. Some of the most common are:
- ear pain
- difficulty sleeping
- tugging or pulling at the ears
- yellow, clear, or bloody discharge from the ears
- loss of balance
- problems hearing
- nausea and vomiting
- decreased appetite
Are middle ear infections contagious?
A contagious disease is a subset category of transmissible diseases, which are transmitted to other persons, either by physical contact with the person suffering the disease, or by casual contact with their secretions or objects touched by them or airborne route among other routes. Ear infections are not contagious or spread from one person to another, but the colds that result in ear infections are. Colds are spread when germs are released from the nose or mouth during coughing or sneezing. Anything that can reduce the spread of germs will help reduce ear infections.
Because most ear infections occur in children under the age of three, parents can play an active role in preventing them:
- Have children use disposable tissues when they blow their noses or to cover their mouths when they cough.
- Teach children that tissues should be used only once and then thrown away properly.
- Do not allow children to share toys that they put in their mouths.
- Wash dirty toys in hot, soapy water before allowing other children to play with them.
- Teach children to always wash their hands after sneezing or coughing into them.
- Do not allow sick children to share food or drinks.
- Regularly wash and disinfect all surface areas and common play areas.
- Do not share bathroom cups and other utensils that go in the mouth.
You should also remember:
- Breastfeeding appears to lower an infant’s risk of ear infections.
- Children under age two should not lie flat when they bottle-feed.
- No one should be allowed to smoke around children. Secondhand smoke increases a child’s risk for ear infections. In fact, even smoke from wood stoves can irritate breathing and increase the risk of an ear infection.
- Children in day care centers tend to have more colds and a higher risk of ear infection. Although it would be best to keep an ill child at home, this may not be possible. Parents should work with day care center staff to ensure proper hand washing, tissue use and cleanliness.
However, A unilateral ear infection can turn into a bilateral ear infection. symptoms of a double ear infection usually develop in both ears at the same time. That’s why your child may be complaining of pain in both ears.
How do doctors diagnose middle ear infections?
Your doctor will make sure they have your child’s medical history and 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 redness, swelling, pus, and fluid.
Your doctor might also conduct a test called tympanometry to determine whether the middle ear is working properly. For this test, a device is put inside your ear canal, changing the pressure and making the eardrum vibrate. The test measures changes in vibration and records them on a graph. Your doctor will interpret the results.