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Ear Infections (Otitis Media)

by Tahl Colen, M.D.


Otitis media means inflammation of the middle  ear. It is most commonly used in the context of acute otitis media, the common middle ear infection of early childhood. During an episode, infected fluid fills the usually air-filled space behind the ear drum. Symptoms include ear pain, fever, and decreased hearing. The reason why this type of infection affects children more than adults is the immaturity of the Eustachian tube in children 0-6 years of age.

Treatment often involves oral antibiotics, although in children over two, a 48-hour observation period is often employed prior to initiating antibiotics. Motrin or acetaminophen may be used for the pain. In children with recurrent infections, sometimes myringotomy tubes are recommended.

Chronic serous otitis media is also more common in children than adults. This is when uninfected fluid is present in the middle ear space for a prolonged period of time. Often, the only symptom is hearing loss, but discomfort may be present on occasion. This can be one cause of speech delay in children, and if persistent and causing enough hearing loss, may be treated with drainage and myringotomy tubes.