Otitis media involves infection of the middle ear either by bacteria or virus. In most cases, otitis media can occur at the same time as allergies, common cold, enlarged adenoids as well as throat or nose infections. Luckily, middle ear infections typically clear up without any issues or long-term complications.
Indications of otitis media
Always bear in mind that ear infections are painful. The buildup of fluid places pressure on the eardrum which causes it to bulge. The other symptoms that can manifest include the following:
- Ear pain – this is evident among adults and older children but for young children and infants, watch out for inconsolable crying or irritability.
- Appetite loss – this is evident in young children especially during bottle feeding. The pressure in the middle ear changes when the child swallows, thus causing more pain and diminished desire to eat.
- Fever – temperatures can go up to 104 degrees F
- Irritability – the continuous pain can lead to irritability in both children and adults
- Ear discharge – White, yellow or brown fluid can seep from the ear which indicates that the eardrum ruptured
- Difficulty hearing – the bones of the middle ear are connected to the nerves that send out electric signals to the brain. The buildup of fluid behind the eardrum slows down the transmission of these signals through the inner ear bones.
Who are at risk?
Otitis media is quite common in children and considered one of the prevalent childhood illnesses. The infection usually occurs between 3 months and 3 years and still common up to 8 years old.
Children are more likely to develop ear infections than adults. This is due to the fact that children acquire colds and respiratory infections more often than adults and the Eustachian tube is shorter and has a lesser slope than the adults.
Causes of otitis media
Acute otitis media can be caused by respiratory infections, common cold, allergies and inflamed adenoids that blocks the bottom of the Eustachian tube. The trapped fluid might become infected by bacteria or virus which results to swelling and pain of the eardrum.
In cases of otitis media with effusion, the symptoms of acute otitis media subside but the fluid is still present. This fluid might lead to temporary and mild hearing loss and can last for up to 3 months.
Diagnosing otitis media
Once otitis media is suspected, the doctor will check the ear using an otoscope. Take note that a healthy eardrum is pinkish gray in color and clear. In case infection is present, the eardrum might appear red, swollen or inflamed.
The fluid in the middle ear is also checked using a pneumatic otoscope that blows a small amount of air at the eardrum. This should cause the eardrum to move back and forth. The eardrum will not move readily if there is fluid within the ear.
Tympanometry is a test that utilizes sound and air pressure to check for fluid in the middle ear. If required, the doctor will request for a hearing test in cases of persistent ear infections to determine if there is any hearing loss and how severe it is.