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Definition of Otitis Media

Otitis media is the medical term most people commonly refer to as inflammation of the middle ear. For those who do not know, the middle ear is the space behind the eardrum which is in normal conditions filled with air. There are more than 20 million cases of acute otitis media each year in the United States.

What Causes Otitis Media?

Otitis media is in most cases associated with a malfunction of the Eustachian tube. This organ is a small canal which connects the throat area and the middle ear and it is in charge of equalizing the pressure between the middle ear and the outer ear. When there are malfunctions it cannot drain the fluids from the middle ear properly and it all results in the fluid buildup. The buildup provides an excellent breeding ground for a large number of different types of viruses, bacteria, fungi and other pathogens which trigger infections. The functioning of the Eustachian tube may be compromised due to a number of different factors such as a malformation of the tube, congestion and swelling of the lining of the tube, the throat and the nose, allergic reactions, common cold, absence of breastfeeding, spending time in a daycare setting, a weak immune system, family history of ear infections and exposure to cigarette smoke.

What Are the Different Types of Otitis Media?

There are two main types of otitis media and those include acute otitis media and otitis media with effusion. Acute otitis media is characterized by abrupt redness and swelling which are also often accompanied by hearing loss, painful sensations in the ears and high fever. It is commonly considered as a minor complication of sore throat, common cold or some other sort of upper respiratory infection. This type of medical condition is not infectious, but the upper respiratory infections which accompany it usually are. Otitis media with effusion is completely different as it involves the accumulation of the mucus and the fluids even after the alleviation of the initial infection. The symptoms of otitis media usually involve inflamed eardrums, fever, painful sensations, ear drainage, vomiting, crying, hearing problems, irritability, scratching at the ear and tugging at the ear. Otitis media which affects all other age groups in most cases involves symptoms such as high fever, ear drainage, vomiting, nausea, loss of balance, dizziness, hearing problems, feeling of pressure inside the affected ear and painful sensations inside the ear. The most common symptoms of otitis media with effusion may involve hearing difficulties, cough, runny nose, and sometimes even diarrhea.

Complications of Otitis Media

Otitis media may sometimes be associated with certain other medical conditions and complications. A common ear infection may sometimes lead to minor instances of hearing loss. This hearing loss usually occurs due to the buildup of fluids and mucus inside the Eustachian tube. If the pressure on the eardrum gets too excessive, it may lead to rupture in some cases. Most cases of hearing loss induced by ear infections are temporary, but untreated cases may lead to permanent hearing loss as well. In cases of children, these nuisances may be associated with serious problems concerning the child’s language and speech development.


Otitis media is usually performed by utilizing two types of tests. A test called pneumatic otoscopy is commonly performed with an instrument called otoscope in order to inspect the eardrum and the presence of fluids. There is another test called tympanography which involves an instrument called tympanogram. This test is performed mainly to examine the functioning of the Eustachian tube. The physician also looks for certain symptoms such as bulging eardrums, fever, ear pain, fluid behind the eardrum and other sorts of symptoms in order to determine that the person suffers from otitis media.


Most cases of acute otitis media are commonly treated with certain types of oral antibiotics, and the most frequently used one is Amoxycillin. Otitis media with effusion is usually much easier to treat and most cases do not require the use of any prescribed antibiotics. The fluid accumulations inside the middle ear usually go away on their own in no more than 6 weeks. The biggest problem with antibiotics is that may sometimes involve certain side effects.

Means of Prevention

Otitis media can easily be prevented by following certain simple guidelines. Babies should never be bottle-fed or breastfed while they lie down. Secondhand smoke needs to be avoided as much as possible. It is very important to have very good handwashing practices in order to avoid all different types of infections. Those who use tissues need to know that they should not be reused. It is also very important to cover the mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing in order to prevent the contamination of others. Annual vaccines against the flu are also highly recommended. 

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