Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear (the space behind the eardrum). This infection is very common in young children, but people of any age can get it. If the ear infection is not treated, your eardrum may burst or the infection may spread. Frequent ear infections can cause life-long hearing problems. If your ear infection is being treated with antibiotics, always take it exactly as directed by your caregiver. You should feel better two to three days after starting your medicine.
You may get an ear infection when your eustachian tubes become swollen or blocked. Eustachian tubes are tiny tubes that connect the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat. Eustachian tubes drain fluid away from the middle ear. They keep fresh air flowing in and out of the ears and control air pressure in the middle ear. Fresh air and the right pressure are needed so that you can hear properly.
When eustachian tubes become blocked, usually because of a cold or allergy, fluid cannot drain from the ear. Fluid that is trapped behind the eardrum is a perfect place for bacteria to grow. As the trapped fluid builds up, it puts increased pressure against the eardrum. If too much pressure builds up, the eardrum may burst. This is usually not a serious problem, because with time the eardrum repairs itself.
Signs and symptoms
- Ear pain
- Trouble hearing
- Your ear may feel plugged or full. You may have ringing or buzzing in your ear
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- Nausea or vomiting
- Fluid leaking from your ear, if the eardrum has burst
Your doctor will use an otoscope to look inside your ears. If your ear is infected, the eardrum may be red and bulging. A normal eardrum is able to move a small amount. If there is fluid or pus behind it, the eardrum will not move the way it normally does. A tympanogram is another test that may be done. During the test, an earplug is put into each of your ears to see how the eardrum moves.
Your doctor will plan your treatment based on any past ear problems and the type of infection you have. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen may help stop your ear pain and fever. You may also be given eardrops to treat your ear pain. Your doctor may or may not choose to give you antibiotic medicine.
Sometimes, otitis media does not go away easily. Your doctor may start you on a dose of antibiotics, and then decide to give you a higher dose. You may need to try several different antibiotic medicines to make your otitis media go away. If you are taking antibiotics, take them exactly as ordered by your caregiver. Keep taking them until the last one is gone, even if you feel better.
For more information about DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital’s audiology and hearing services or to make an appointment, call 313-966-4725.