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Ear Infections and Earache What Is Otitis Media?  Otitis media means inflammation of the middle ear. Otitis media is the most frequent diagnosis recorded for children who visit physicians for illness. It is also the most common cause of hearing loss in children.  Although otitis media is most common in young children, it also affects adults occasionally. It occurs most commonly in the winter and early spring months.  Is Otitis Media Serious?  Yes, it is serious because of the severe earache and hearing loss it can create. Hearing loss, especially in children, may impair learning capacity and even delay speech development. However, if it is treated promptly and effectively, hearing can almost always be restored to normal. Otitis media is also serious because the infection can spread to nearby structures in the head, especially the mastoid, the bone of the skull immediately behind the ear canal and middle ear. Thus, it is very important to recognize the symptoms of otitis media and to get immediate attention from your doctor.  How Does The Ear Work? The outer ear collects sounds. The middle ear is a pea sized, air-filled cavity separated from the outer ear by the paper-thin eardrum. When sound waves strike the eardrum, it vibrates and sets the bones in motion that transmit to the inner ear.

The inner ear converts vibrations to electrical signals and sends these signals to the brain.
The inner ear also helps to maintain balance and to help an individual to understand their orientation, and to stabilize his or her vision during movement.  A healthy middle ear contains air at the same atmospheric pressure as outside of the ear, allowing free vibration.
Air enters the middle ear through the narrow Eustachian Tube that connects the back of the nose to the ear. When you yawn and hear a pop, your Eustachian Tube has just sent a tiny air bubble to your middle ear to equalize the air pressure.  What Causes Otitis Media?  Blockage of the Eustachian Tube during a cold, allergy, or upper respiratory infection and the presence of bacteria or viruses lead to the accumulation of fluid (a build-up of pus and mucus) behind the eardrum.
Since the eardrum cannot vibrate properly, you or your child may have hearing problems.  Sometimes the eardrum ruptures, and pus drains out of the ear.
But more commonly, the pus and mucus remain in the middle ear due to the swollen and inflamed Eustachian Tube. Often after the acute infection has passed, the effusion remains and becomes chronic, lasting for weeks, months, or even years.
This condition makes one subject to frequent recurrences of the acute infection and may cause difficulty in hearing.
It is important that all the medication(s) be taken as directed and that any follow-up visits be kept.

Often, antibiotics to fight the infection will make the earache go away rapidly, but the infection may need more time to clear up.
Call your doctor if you have any questions about you or your child’s medication or if symptoms do not clear. What Other Treatment May Be Necessary? Most of the time, otitis media clears up with proper medication and home treatment.
This involves a small surgical incision (opening) into the eardrum to promote drainage of fluid and to relieve pain. The incision heals within a few days with practically no scarring or injury to the eardrum. In fact, the surgical opening can heal so fast that it often closes before the infection and the fluid are gone. A ventilation tube can be placed in the incision, preventing fluid accumulation and thus improving hearing.  The surgeon selects a ventilation tube for your child that will remain in place for as long as required for the middle ear infection to improve and for the Eustachian Tube to return to normal. Otherwise, the tube causes no trouble, and you will probably notice a remarkable improvement in hearing and a decrease in the frequency of ear infections. Otitis media may recur as a result of chronically infected adenoids and tonsils.

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