Your middle ear is a hollow space behind your eardrum. The middle ear contains 3 tiny bones that send your eardrum's vibrations to the nerves in your inner ear.
Different parts of your ear can get infected, but you're most likely to have an infection in your middle ear. "Media" means middle, and "otitis" means inflamed ear, so doctors call this infection otitis media. It's "acute" when it happens quickly and gets better quickly. If the infection doesn't go away or keeps coming back, it's called a chronic ear infection.
Ear infections can happen at any age but are most common in children
They're usually triggered by a cold or allergies
The infected ear hurts, and you may not be able to hear as well
Most ear infections get better on their own, but doctors will prescribe antibiotics for severe infections or an infection that won't go away on its own
The most common symptoms are:
Infants may be cranky or have difficulty sleeping.
Young children may pull on their ear, have a fever, feel sick to their stomach, throw up, or have diarrhea.
If the infection causes a hole in the eardrum (eardrum perforation), fluid may drain from the ear. This often relieves the pain.
Most people don't have complications. Children who get a lot of ear infections may have:
Long-term hearing loss
A hole in the eardrum that keeps draining fluid (chronic ear infection)
Very rarely, a bacterial infection can spread into the nearby skull bone or into the brain.
Most acute ear infections go away with no treatment, but doctors may give you:
If the ear pain is severe, doctors may need to drain fluid from your middle ear. They may make a small hole in the eardrum to drain the fluid or place tubes in the eardrum to keep fluid draining properly.
Make sure your children get their routine childhood vaccinations
Don't let infants drink from a bottle while lying down or take a bottle to bed with them
Don't smoke in the house or around children