The middle ear is the small space behind the eardrum; this space is usually filled with air. Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear that causes inflammation and a build-up of fluid. It is often extremely painful and be be associated with high fever.
Symptoms of otitis media:
- Fever may be present
- Pulling, tugging or rubbing ear
- Slight hearing loss
In most cases the symptoms of a middle ear infection develop quickly and resolve in a few days. In some cases, pus may run out of the ear, this is the fluid that had built up behind the ear drum causing a small hole in the eardrum; this tends to heal up by itself.
Most cases of earache/otitis media in young children (under 5 years of age) are caused by viral infections; your child may also have a runny nose and cough. The Eustachian tube is a small tube that links the middle ear to the back of the throat. Its main job is to regulate air pressure in the ear. Its other function is to drain any fluid or mucus that builds up. The common 'cold' can cause the Eustachian to become blocked, causing a build up of fluid or mucus and resulting in earache.
Most children with otitis media (earache) do no require treatment with antibiotics. Antibiotics rarely speed up recovery and often cause side effects such as rash and diarrhoea. They will also promote the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in your child.
Antibiotics are usually only considered if your child:
- Is under 6 months of age and has otitis media
- Is between 6 months and 2 years of age with infection in both ears, or with associated symptoms such as altered sleep, fever and overwhelming misery
- Has pus draining from their ear
- Has a serious health condition that makes them more vulnerable to serious infection
In addition, if your child has any features of severe infection (amber or red features above), they will need to be urgently assessed by a healthcare professional
You can help relieve symptoms by:
- Giving your child paracetamol or ibuprofen to help relieve pain
- Encouraging your child to drink plenty of fluids
Is it not possible to prevent ear infections; however, you can do things that may reduce your child's chances of developing the condition:
- Ensure your child is up-to-date with their immunisations
- Avoid exposing your child to smoky environments (passive smoking)