What is acute otitis media?

Acute otitis media is either a viral or bacterial infection affecting the middle ear. This is often a complication of common cold or allergies. Even though acute otitis media can develop at any age, it is common between the ages of 3 months up to 3 years.

The condition often occurs during this range since the middle ear structures such as the Eustachian tube are not fully mature and functioning properly. In rare cases, the bacterial type spreads to adjacent structures such as the mastoid bone behind the ear or the inner ear.


An infected ear can cause pain with a reddened, bulging eardrum. Many individuals also have hearing loss. Among infants, they appear cranky or have difficulty sleeping. Symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, fever and diarrhea often occur among young children. In some cases, the bulging eardrum can rupture which causes the drainage of pus from the ear.

Acute otitis media

An infected ear can cause pain with a reddened, bulging eardrum.

If the infection spreads, it can cause an intense headache, confusion or impaired brain function.

How is it diagnosed

The doctor will utilize an otoscope to assess the ear canal and eardrum. This examination will reveal if pus is present in the middle ear behind the eardrum


In most individuals with acute otitis media, they get better without requiring treatment. Nevertheless, since it is difficult to predict which symptoms will not subside, some doctors might treat the condition using antibiotics such as amoxicillin. Other doctors might provide antibiotics only if the condition is severe or if the symptoms do not subside after 72 hours.

Remember that providing relief from pain is vital. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be given. Adults might be given a decongestant nasal spray that contains phenylephrine or decongestants taken orally.

The antihistamines are useful for those who have allergies but not for common cold. Both decongestants and antihistamines are not ideal for children and might even trigger undesirable side effects.

If an individual has severe or persistent pain or fever and the eardrum is evidently bulging, the doctor might carry out myringotomy. In this procedure, an opening is created through the eardrum to allow the drainage of fluid from the middle ear. This opening does not affect hearing and heals without treatment.

Preventive measures

The risk for developing acute otitis media can be reduced with the help of routine childhood vaccinations against influenza, pneumococci and Haemophilus influenzae type B.

Infants should not sleep with a bottle since it allows the liquid to flow via the Eustachian tube into the middle ear. Exposure to secondhand smoke can also increase the risk, thus it is vital not to smoke inside the house or around children.



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