Otitis Media is a middle ear infection, which can present as either Acute Otitis Media (AOM) or Otitis Media with Effusion (OME). AOM comes on quickly, and is an infection which results in severe ear pain, while OME causes a feeling of fullness in the ear caused by a non-infectious fluid in the middle ear.
Otitis Media is most common in early childhood, with children aged 6-18 months being most prone to infection. They are particularly at risk if they have a higher than average amount of nose and throat infections, exposure to passive smoke, have a cleft palate or down syndrome. Adults however, are not immune and can also suffer from Otitis Media, though it is less common.
Symptoms of Otitis Media differ for AOM and OME. In children AOM symptoms include:
In adults, OAM can manifest itself in the following ways:
OME is slightly different, in that it is often asymptomatic but may make the sufferer feel as though their ear is full to bursting, however pain isn’t often felt. Occasionally Otitis Media may cause you to develop a hole in your eardrum, called a perforation. This perforation will allow puss to run out of the ear, and will relieve your earache symptoms.
The tube that runs from the middle of the ear to the back of the throat, the eustachian tube, can become swollen or blocked. This results in the trapping of fluid in the middle ear. Otitis Media occurs if this fluid becomes infected. Swelling and/or blockage of the eustachian tube can be caused by many things, including bacterial infections and enlarged adenoids. Viruses and bacteria which live in the throat can travel to the eustachian tube, causing an infection, this is why Otitis Media is much more prevalent after a cold or flu. Children are more prone to this infection due to their narrow Eustachian tubes and their higher rate of primary infection, particularly if they are in childcare or nursery school where exposure to infection is higher.
If you feel you or your child have the symptoms of Otitis Media, it is important to visit a doctor as untreated or persistent cases can lead to permanent hearing loss. Doctors typically diagnose Otitis Media and similar ear infections by examining the ears for a bulging or unusually colored eardrum or perforations.
There are several treatments for Otitis Media, although cases often resolve themselves on their own under close observation. More serious cases require a course of antibiotics, such a penicillin, and if a child consistently gets Otitis Media infections, they may need to have their adenoids removed.
Find out more about some other causes of hearing loss here