Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. It is very common in children but can also occur in adults. The chamber of the middle ear is connected to the outside through a hollow tube, the eustachian tube, that leads down to the throat. Air may enter or leave through this tube to keep the pressure in the middle ear equal to the outside pressure. This is important because of the pressure changes that occur when one changes altitude as in a tall building elevator or in an airplane.
A cold (upper respiratory tract infection) and a plane trip are the common causes of dysfunction of the eustachian tube, although there are many other less common causes. When this tube is not working properly, an accumulation of fluid may occur in the middle ear. If this becomes infected it is called otitis media. Infection here causes pain in the ear, vertigo (dizziness), and drainage from the ear; it may interfere with hearing. The infection may also cause fever.
Important Points in Treatment
The doctor can usually make the diagnosis of otitis media by looking into the ear canal and inspecting the ear drum. Treatment usually requires antibiotics and frequently will require drainage of the middle ear infection through a hole made in the ear drum.
When the changes are chronic, the fluid behind the ear drum may not drain readily, and it may be necessary to insert tubes into the middle ear space through the ear drum. Chronic infections if not treated promptly may lead to hearing loss. It is also possible for hard lumps called cholesteatomas to form.
Call Our Office If ...
- You develop pain in the ear, particularly if there is fever.
- You develop drainage from the ear.
- You develop pain in the ear that is associated with hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).