What is acute otitis media?

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Acute otitis media is an ear infection that causes intense discomfort. It develops if the area behind the eardrum or middle ear becomes infected and inflamed.

A child might have this condition if fussy or continuously cries, clutching the ear while winching in agony and complaining about ear pain (older children).

Indications of acute otitis media

Babies and children might have one or several of these symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Crying
  • Ear pain
    A child might have this condition if fussy or continuously cries, clutching the ear while winching in agony and complaining about ear pain (older children).
  • Sleeplessness
  • Pulling on the ears
  • Fever
  • Neck pain
  • Drainage of fluid from the ear
  • Sensation of fullness in the ear
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Balance loss
  • Irritability
  • Hearing loss

What are the possible causes?

It is important to note that the Eustachian tube travels from the middle part of the ear up to the back region of the throat. Acute otitis media develops if the Eustachian tube of the child becomes swollen or blocked and traps fluid in the middle ear.

The confined fluid can become infected. Among young children, the Eustachian tube is relatively short and horizontal in position than in older children and adults. This is the reason why it is prone to infection.

The Eustachian tube can also be come swollen or blocked due to the following:

  • Sinus infection
  • Allergies
  • Flu
  • Common cold
  • Infected or enlarged adenoids
  • Drinking while lying down (infants)
  • Cigarette smoking


In most cases of acute otitis media, they settle without requiring antibiotics. Home treatment including pain medications are recommended before antibiotics are used.

The commonly used treatment options include:

  • Home care – these measures aim to relieve the pain while waiting for the infection to settle such as application of a warm moist cloth over the infected ear, over-the-counter ear drops for relief from pain and over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
  • Medications – eardrops for pain relief and other pain medications might be prescribed by the doctor. Antibiotics might be given if the symptoms do not settle after a few days of home treatment.
  • Surgery – this is the chosen option if the infection does not act to the treatment or the child has a recurrent case of ear infections. The commonly used include adenoid removal and placement of ear tubes.

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