Ear infection – acute

Alternative Names

Otitis media – acute; Infection – inner ear; Middle ear infection – acute

Definition of Ear infection – acute

Ear infections are one of the most common reasons parents take their children to the doctor. While there are different types of ear infections, the most common is called otitis media, which means an inflammation and infection of the middle ear. The middle ear is located just behind the eardrum.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

For each ear, a eustachian tube runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat. This tube drains fluid that is normally made in the middle ear. If the eustachian tube becomes blocked, fluid can build up. When this happens, germs such as bacteria and viruses can multiply and cause an infection.

Symptoms

In infants, the clearest sign is often irritability and inconsolable crying. Many infants and children develop a or have trouble sleeping. Parents often think that tugging on the ear is a symptom of an ear infection, but studies have shown that the same number of children going to the doctor tug on the ear whether or not the ear is infected.

Signs and tests

You will be asked if there have been any ear infections in the past, and whether your child (or you, if you are the patient) have had any recent cold or allergy symptoms.

Treatment

Some ear infections will safely clear up on their own without antibiotics. Often, treating the pain and allowing the body time to heal itself is all that is needed:

Expectations (prognosis)

Ear infections can be treated but may occur again in the future. They can be quite painful. If you or your child are prescribed an antibiotic, it is important to finish all your medication as instructed.

Review

Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 4/26/2010

Ear anatomy
Middle ear infection (otitis media)
Eustachian tube
Mastoiditis - side view of head
Mastoiditis - redness and swelling behind ear
Ear tube insertion - series

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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