Otitis is an inflammation of the middle ear, and is usually referred to as an ear infection. It occurs when fluid is trapped in the middle ear as the result of a cold, allergies, or respiratory infection. Otitis media can affect anybody but is most prevalent in children; by the age of 3, 80% of children have experienced at least one episode.
Causes of Otitis Media
Middle ear infections occur when the Eustachian tube fails to work properly, preventing fluids from draining as they normally would. Colds or allergies frequently cause swelling and lead to blockages. In other cases, the Eustachian tube may be malformed. Children are particularly susceptible because their Eustachian tubes haven’t fully developed yet. The condition may be either acute or chronic.
The most common signs of otitis media are ear pain, fever, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and hearing loss. Additional symptoms may include irritability, difficulty sleeping, tugging or pulling on the ear(s), loss of balance, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, and congestion.
Treatment & Prevention
If either you or your child is experiencing the symptoms of otitis media, a doctor can confirm the diagnosis through a physical examination and an inspection of the ears and eardrums with a lighted instrument called an otoscope.
Treatment depends upon the age of the patient, their overall health, and the extent of the condition. Because most ear infections heal on their own, many times your doctor will take a “wait and see” approach, holding off on antibiotics for a few days to see if the condition clears up without additional intervention. Medication may be given for pain relief, but avoid giving aspirin to children, as it can be harmful or even fatal. Home remedies, such as a warm compress pressed to the ear, can bring relief.
Antibiotics or eardrops are usually prescribed if the condition worsens or is caused by bacteria. Those who experience persistent otitis media with effusion (chronic cases that last longer than three months) may benefit from surgically implanted ear tubes that are designed to prevent fluid from accumulating in the middle ear.
Chronic ear infections aren’t just painful; they can lead to complications such as permanent hearing loss and problems with speech and language development in children. It is therefore in everybody’s best interest to prevent them from occurring whenever possible. Certain lifestyle changes can reduce the odds of otitis media. These include breastfeeding infants, preventing exposure to secondhand smoke, keeping children in childcare settings with as few other kids as possible, and making sure immunizations are up to date.