Ear infections: causes, symptoms and treatments


Ear infections: causes, symptoms and treatments

Around three-quarters of children will have at least one ear infection by their third birthday. In fact, ear infections are the most common reason parents take their child to see a doctor.1

Ear infections, also known as glue ear, secretory otitis media, otitis media with effusion, middle ear infection or serous otitis media, are a common problem, particularly in children.

Because of their widespread occurrence, ear infections are well understood and still widely researched.

You will also see introductions at the end of some sections to any recent developments that have been covered by Medical-Diag.com's news stories. Also look out for links to information about related conditions.

Here are some key points about ear infections. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • Ear infections are more common in young boys than young girls.
  • Most ear infections improve without intervention.
  • Vaccinating your child against the flu can help prevent ear infections.
  • Biofilms of antibiotic-resistant bacteria may be to blame for prolonged and repeated cases of ear infection.
  • Recent studies have shown that ear infections may have a genetic component.
  • Secondhand smoke increases the risk of ear infections.
  • Different racial groups have different levels of susceptibility to ear infections.

What is an ear infection?

Ear infections are very common and affect 5 out of 6 children in their first 3 years.

As the name suggests, an ear infection is a bacterial or viral infection of the ear - specifically the middle ear. This infection causes inflammation and the build-up of fluid within the ear's internal cavities.

The middle ear is a fluid-filled space situated behind the eardrum that contains the vibrating bones necessary to convert external sound into meaningful signals for the brain.

Ear infections are painful because the inflammation and build-up of excess fluids cause pressure on the ear drum.

Often, ear infections will clear up by themselves, and the only medication necessary is pain management. In more severe or prolonged cases, particularly where young infants are concerned, antibiotics may be used.

Babies under 6 months require antibiotic treatment to help prevent the spread of infection. For children aged 6 months to 2 years, physicians typically recommend a watch-and-wait strategy without antibiotics, unless it is clear that the cause of symptoms is an ear infection.

For children older than 2, antibiotics are not normally prescribed. Overuse of antibiotics leads to antibiotic resistance, meaning that more serious infections become more difficult to treat.

Symptoms of ear infection

In adults, the symptoms are simple: ear pain, fluid from the ear and diminished hearing. In children, there is a longer list of signs to look out for which include:

  • Tugging or pulling at the ear
  • Ear pain, especially when lying down
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Crying more than normal
  • Loss of balance
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Fever
  • Lack of appetite
  • Headache.

Types of ear infection

Ear infections are generally subdivided into three categories, as follows:

Acute otitis media (AOM)

AOM is the most common and least serious form of ear infection. The middle ear is infected and swollen, and fluid is trapped behind the eardrum. Fever can also be present.

Otitis media with effusion (OME)

After an ear infection has run its course, there may be some fluid left behind the drum which remains in place. Someone with OME may not display any outward symptoms, but a doctor will be able to spot the residual fluid.

Chronic otitis media with effusion (COME)

COME refers to a recurrent state where fluid repeatedly returns to the middle ear, with or without an infection present. The main issues with COME are a decrease in ability to fight other infections and a negative impact on hearing ability.


On the next page, we look at causes, diagnosis and the available treatment options for ear infections.

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Swimmer's Ear Infection Causes, Symptoms And Treatment (Video Medical And Professional 2020).

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