What is a Middle Ear Infection?

A middle ear infection is an infection of the space behind the ear drum (tympanic membrane). The medical name for an ear infection is otitis media (OM).

Anatomy of the ear.

Anyone can get an ear infection, but children get them more often than adults. Ear infections are the most common reason for sick doctor’s visit. The number of children with ear infection has increased in the past 25 years.

Cause of Middle Ear Infections

Otitis media is caused by bacteria, a virus, or a fungus. Ear infections are common when a child has a cold or upper respiratory tract infection.

Signs and Symptoms of Middle Ear Infections

Signs and symptoms of a middle ear infection are:

  • Fever
  • Fussiness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Less interest in eating and drinking
  • Pain or tugging at the ear
  • Off balance
  • Not hearing well
  • Sometimes fluid draining from the ear

Treatment of Middle Ear Infections

Ear infections are often treated with an oral antibiotic.

Some ear infections get better without antibiotics. If your child is over 2 years old, the doctor may ask you to watch for a few days and only start antibiotics if the signs and symptoms are getting worse. Over the counter medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen help with pain and fever.

You doctor will refer to a specialist known as an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor, if your child’s ear infections are not going away with treatment or keep coming back.

Some children need a surgery to put a small ventilation tube (tiny hollow tubes also known as ear tube or PET) in the eardrum. This helps air flow and lets the fluid drain out. The tubes most often stay in the ear drums for six to 18 months. Some children still get ear infections even with the ear tubes in place.

Your child will follow up with the ENT doctor until the ear tubes fall out and until your child stops having ear infections.

Call Your Child's Doctor If:

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