Inflammation of the middle ear, usually as a result of a bacterial or viral infection
- More common in children but can occur at any age
- Gender, genetics, and lifestyle are not significant factors
In otitis media, tissues lining the middle ear are inflamed, and pus and fluid accumulate in the middle ear, causing pain and partial hearing loss. The condition occurs when a viral infection, such as a common cold or influenza, or a bacterial infection spreads from the throat to the middle ear. The infection may cause a ruptured eardrum. Otitis media is common in children. This is because their eustachian tubes, which connect the ear to the back of the nose and throat and ventilate the middle ear, are immature and easily blocked by large structures, such as adenoids (see Acute otitis media in children). Sometimes, a sticky fluid persistently collects in the middle ear, impairing hearing (see Chronic secretory otitis media).
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of otitis media often develop over a few hours and include:
Pain in the ear, which may be severe.
Partial hearing loss.
If the eardrum ruptures, there may be a bloodstained discharge from the ear and a decrease in pain. Untreated otitis media may become a chronic infection with a constant discharge of pus from the ear. Rarely, the infection results in a cholesteatoma, a collection of skin cells and debris, in the middle ear. This complication may damage the middle ear and rarely the inner ear, scausing permanent loss of hearing.
What might be done?
Your doctor will examine your ear with an otoscope (see Otoscopy) to check if your eardrum is inflamed and to see if there is pus in the middle ear. You may be prescribed oral antibiotics and may be given painkillers. In most cases, the pain subsides in a few days, but mild hearing loss may sometimes persist for a week or two. If a cholesteatoma has developed, it is usually necessary for it to be removed by surgery.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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