Otitis Media: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Overview

Otitis media is a particular type of ear infection or inflammation which mainly affects the middle ear and the tympanic membrane. It often occurs due to upper respiratory tract infection, and sometimes viral infection or bacterial infection. Generally, the infection should be gone in 10 days with medicine. However, infections may even cause life-long hearing problems. Children are more prone to otitis media than the adults because of their underdeveloped immune system and a shorter eustachian tube. Studies show that nearly 75% of children have at least one episode of otitis media by the age of three.

Causes

Otitis media can be caused by many factors.

The eustachian tube is the tube that runs from the middle of the ear to the back of the throat. When the eustachian tube becomes swollen or blocked and traps fluid in the middle ear, it can lead to infections.

The common causes of otitis media include:

  • Virus, such as cytomegalovirus, respiratory syncytial virus or influenza virus
  • Bacteria, such as streptococcus, haemophilus or moraxella species
  • Allergies
  • A flu or a cold
  • Sinus infections
  • Infected or enlarged adenoids
  • Accumulation of excess fluid in the middle ear
  • Central nervous diseases, such as encephalitis or meningitis
  • Excessive smoking
  • Exposure to environmental pollutants

Symptoms

People with otitis media may have the following symptoms:

  • Ear pain
  • Discharge of sticky fluid from the ear
  • Constant itching, redness, and irritation of the ear
  • Buzzing or ringing sound in the ear
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Impaired hearing or hearing loss
  • Headache
  • Swelling and reddening of adenoid glands
  • Occasional fever
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lack of balance
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Discharge of blood

Diagnosis

To diagnose otitis media, the doctor will use a special instrument called otoscope to observe the color of the eardrum. Under normal conditions, the eardrum looks pinkish gray. Besides, the following tests may be ordered:

  • Tympanometry

In this test, the doctor uses a small instrument to measure the air pressure in the ear and determine if the eardrum is ruptured.

  • Reflectometry

In this test, the doctor uses a small instrument that makes a sound near the ear. The doctor can determine if there is any fluid in the ear by listening to the sound reflected back from the ear.

  • Hearing test

The doctor may perform a hearing test to check if the patient is experiencing hearing loss.

Treatment

In many cases, otitis media can resolve without antibiotic treatment. The doctor may first recommend a wait-and-see period that lasts for a day or two before treatment. The goal of this waiting period is usually to let the body fight the bacterial infection on its own.

The treatment for otitis media in adults is similar to the treatment in children. Common treatment options include:

  • Medication

Antibiotic medications are the most common treatments used for otitis media. Usually, the antibiotics are administered orally, and the symptoms may disappear within a few days. Besides, the doctor may also prescribe eardrops to relieve pain.

  • Surgery

If your infection doesn’t respond to the above treatment or if the condition is chronic, the doctor may recommend surgery, which may include:

Adenoid removal

Sometimes surgical treatment for otitis media is focused on removal of the adenoids, which form the lumpy tissue at the back of a person’s throat. Infected adenoids can contribute to the development of ear infections.

Ear tubes

The doctor may suggest a surgical procedure to insert tiny tubes in the ear. The tubes can facilitate the drainage of fluid and prevent the development of new ear infections.


Keywords: Otitis media

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.