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Ear Infections (cont.)

Symptoms

Symptoms of a middle ear infection (acute otitis media) often start 2 to 7 days after the start of a cold or other upper respiratory infection. Symptoms of an ear infection may include:

  • Ear pain (mild to severe). Babies often pull or tug at their ears when they have an earache.
  • Fever.
  • Drainage from the ear that is thick and yellow or bloody. If this occurs, the eardrum has probably burst (ruptured). The hole in the eardrum often heals by itself in a few weeks.
  • Loss of appetite, vomiting, and grumpy behavior.
  • Trouble sleeping.

Symptoms of fluid buildup may include:

  • Popping, ringing, or a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ear. Children often have trouble describing this feeling. Children may rub their ears trying to relieve pressure.
  • Trouble hearing. Children who have problems hearing may seem dreamy or inattentive, or they may appear grumpy or cranky.
  • Balance problems and dizziness.

Some children don't have any symptoms with this condition.

What Happens

Middle ear infection (acute otitis media)

Middle ear infections usually occur along with an upper respiratory infection (URI), such as a cold. During a URI, the lining of the eustachian tube can swell and block the tube. Fluid builds up in the middle ear, creating a perfect breeding ground for bacteria or viruses to grow into an ear infection.

Pus develops as the body tries to fight the ear infection. More fluid collects and pushes against the eardrum, causing pain and sometimes problems hearing. Fever generally lasts a few days. And pain and crying usually last for several hours. After that, most children have some pain on and off for several days, although young children may have pain that comes and goes for more than a week. Antibiotic treatment may shorten some symptoms. But most of the time the immune system can fight infection and heal the ear infection without the use of these medicines. Children under 2 are treated with antibiotics, because they are more likely to have complications from the ear infection.

In severe cases, too much fluid can increase pressure on the eardrum until it ruptures, allowing the fluid to drain. When this happens, fever and pain usually go away and the infection clears. The eardrum usually heals on its own, often in just a couple of weeks.

Sometimes complications, such as a condition called chronic suppurative otitis media (an ear infection with chronic drainage), can arise from repeat ear infections.

Middle ear fluid buildup (otitis media with effusion)

Most children who have ear infections still have some fluid behind the eardrum a few weeks after the infection is gone. For some children, the fluid clears in about a month. And a few children still have fluid buildup (effusion) several months after an ear infection clears. This fluid buildup in the ear is called otitis media with effusion. Hearing problems can result, because the fluid affects how the middle ear works. Usually, infection does not occur.

Otitis media with fluid buildup (effusion) may occur even if a child has not had an obvious ear infection or upper respiratory infection. In these cases, something else has caused eustachian tube blockage.

In rare cases, complications can arise from middle ear infection or fluid buildup. Examples include hearing loss and ruptured eardrum.

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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