Ear Infections (Middle Ear Infections or Otitis Media)

The most common reason that children see a physician other than for well child care is for treatment of middle ear infections, otherwise known as otitis media. The middle ear refers to the space just behind the ear drum (tympanic membrane).

There has been an increase of otitis media in the past 25 years, likely due to the increased use of day care facilities.

Otitis media can be caused by a bacterial, viral or fungal infection to the middle ear. Ear infections can often be seen in association with an upper respiratory tract infection.

Signs and symptoms of a middle ear infection include fever, irritability, decreased appetite, pain, tugging at the ear, loss of balance, lack of hearing, and possible fluid draining from the ear.
These infections should be differentiated from an external otitis, or swimmer's ear, which is an infection of the external ear canal.

Treatment usually involves administration of oral antibiotics. Recent studies have shown, however, that observation without medical treatment may be appropriate in some children over 2 years of age.

Recurrent or chronic problems may prompt a visit to the ear, nose and throat physician where a hearing test may be obtained as part of the standard evaluation of the child.

When ear infections are recurrent or if the fluid associated with the infection does not clear, there is a surgical option. A pressure equalizing tube (PE tube) may be appropriate. PE tubes are tiny hollow tubes that decrease the frequency of ear infections by allowing air in and helping fluid to drain appropriately. Your child may still get ear infections but the PE tube will allow them to be treated easier and quicker.

Additionally, removal of the adenoids may be helpful in some children who have had repeated problems or who have severe nasal obstruction.

  • Your child exhibits any of the signs and symptoms of a middle ear infection
  • Your child develops swelling or redness to the ear or around the ear

Last Updated 09/2012