Ear Infections and Ear Ache

October 8, 2008

What Is Otitis Media? Otitis media means inflammation of the middle ear. The inflammation occurs as a result of a middle ear infection. It can occur in one or both ears. Otitis media is the most frequent diagnosis recorded for children who visit physicians for illness. It is also the most common cause of hearing loss in children.

Is It Serious? Yes, it is serious because of the severe earache and hearing loss it can create. Hearing loss, especially in children, may impair learning capacity and even delay speech development. However, if it is treated promptly and effectively, hearing can almost always be restored to normal. Otitis media is also serious because the infection can spread to nearby structures in the head, especially the mastoid. Thus, it is very important to recognize the symptoms (see list) of otitis media and to get immediate attention.

What Causes Otitis Media? Blockage of the eustachian tube during a cold, allergy, or upper respiratory infection and the presence of bacteria or viruses lead to the accumulation of fluid (a build-up of pus and mucus) behind the eardrum. This is the infection called acute otitis media. The build up of pressurized pus in the middle ear causes earache, swelling, and redness. Since the eardrum cannot vibrate properly, you or your child may have hearing problems. Sometimes the eardrum ruptures, and pus drains out of the ear. But more commonly, the pus and mucus remain in the middle ear due to the swollen and inflamed eustachian tube. This is called middle ear effusion or serous otitis media. Often after the acute infection has passed, the effusion remains and becomes chronic, lasting for weeks, months, or even years. This condition makes one subject to frequent recurrences of the acute infection and may cause difficulty in hearing.

What Are the Symptoms? In infants and toddlers look for: pulling or scratching at the ear, especially if accompanied by the following… hearing problems, crying, irritability, fever, vomiting, ear drainage. In young children, adolescents, and adults look for: earache, feeling of fullness or pressure, hearing problems, dizziness, loss of balance, nausea, vomiting, ear drainage, fever. Remember, without proper treatment, damage from an ear infection can cause chronic or permanent hearing loss.

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