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Ear Infection (Acute Otitis Media)


Ear infections (acute otitis media) occur in the space behind the eardrum, which is called the middle ear. Ear infections are more likely to occur after a cold or other upper respiratory infection has been present for a few days.

During a cold, throat infection, or allergy attack, the tube that connects the throat and the middle ear (eustachian tube) swells and prevents air from entering the middle ear. This can create suction, which pulls fluid into the middle ear space. The fluid becomes trapped in the middle ear, allowing viruses or bacteria to grow and cause infection.

Ear infections are most common in children younger than age 7. Young children have shorter, softer, and more horizontal eustachian tubes, which are more easily blocked than those of older children and adults.

Symptoms of ear infection can include ear pain, fever, thick and yellow drainage from the ear, irritability, loss of appetite, vomiting, difficulty sleeping, and trouble hearing.

Home treatment with a nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may be all that is needed for ear infection. Read and follow all instructions on the label. If you give medicine to your baby, follow your doctor's advice about what amount to give. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.

Antibiotics are usually prescribed for children who are younger than age 2, are very ill, or have an increased risk for complications. Recurrent infections may require surgery to insert tubes (myringotomy) to drain and ventilate the middle ear.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical ReviewerCharles M. Myer, III, MD - Otolaryngology
Last RevisedJanuary 13, 2011

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