Middle ear infection

A middle ear infection is one of the most common infections suffered by children, and adults can also be affected.

Overview

A middle ear infection is one of the most common infections suffered by children, and adults can also be affected. It is usually caused by bacteria. Severe earache and fever are typical. It usually heals on its own within one or two weeks. Nasal irrigation with salt water can help support the healing process.

Symptoms

Main symptoms

  • Severe earache
  • Fever
  • Sudden onset

Other symptoms

  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Hearing impairment
  • Dizziness
  • Children are grumpy and don't want to play
  • Loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting
  • Purulent, watery or bloody ear discharge

Complications

  • The infection can spread to adjacent tissue
  • Chronic middle ear infection

Causes and treatment

Causes

  • Bacteria (in particular pneumococci, staphylococci and haemophilus influenza)
  • Viruses (in particular influenza and cold viruses)
  • Impaired nasal breathing (e.g. owing to nasal polyps)
  • Tobacco smoke

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • Ear examination (otoscopy)
  • Hearing and balance tests
  • Blood test (inflammatory markers)
  • CT scan (computed tomography)
Possible therapies
  • Antipyretic (i.e. fever-reducing) drugs
  • Painkillers
  • Anti-swelling nasal sprays
  • Antibiotics (for bacteria)
  • In rare cases, puncture of the tympanic membrane in order to drain the pus from the middle ear

What can I do myself?

  • Nasal irrigation with salt water, or alternatively, salt water nasal spray
  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Bed rest

When to see a doctor?

  • Small children with a runny nose and high fever who are whiny and unsettled and repeatedly touch their ear
  • High fever or fever that lasts longer than 3 days
  • Symptoms last for more than one week
  • Pain and swelling behind the ear
  • Disorientation or cramps
  • Facial paralysis
  • Stiff neck

Synonyms

middle ear infection, aom, acute otitis media, otitis media

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Exclusion of liability

CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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