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Ear Infection (Acute Otitis Media)

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Medically Reviewed Jul 2022 | Modified Sep 2022
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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.

Acute otitis media is a painful type of ear infection in your middle ear. It happens suddenly and usually gets better quickly. If the infection doesn't go away or keeps coming back, it's called a chronic ear infection Chronic Ear Infection (Chronic Otitis Media) Your middle ear is a hollow space behind your eardrum. The middle ear contains 3 tiny bones that transmit your eardrum's vibrations to the nerves in your inner ear. A chronic ear infection is... read more .

Inside the Ear

Inside the Ear

What is an ear infection?

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 Chronic Ear Infection (Chronic Otitis Media) Your middle ear is a hollow space behind your eardrum. The middle ear contains 3 tiny bones that transmit your eardrum's vibrations to the nerves in your inner ear. A chronic ear infection is... read more .

  • 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

What causes acute ear infections?

The Ears
VIDEO

Acute ear infections are caused by a virus or bacteria. Having a common cold or allergies can lead to an ear infection.

The infection fills the middle ear with fluid. With a bacterial infection, the fluid may be pus.

What are the symptoms of an acute ear infection?

The most common symptoms are:

  • Ear pain

  • Hearing loss

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.

What are the complications of an ear infection?

Most people don't have complications. Children who get a lot of ear infections may have:

Very rarely, a bacterial infection can spread into the nearby skull bone or into the brain.

How can doctors tell if I have an ear infection?

Doctors will use a handheld light to check if:

  • Your eardrum is bulging or red

  • There's fluid behind your eardrum

How do doctors treat acute ear infections?

Most acute ear infections go away with no treatment, but doctors may give you:

  • Antibiotics

  • Pain medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen

  • For adults, sometimes decongestant spray or pills

  • For people with allergies, antihistamine pills

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.

How can I limit the risk of my children getting ear infections?

Drugs Mentioned In This Article

Generic Name Select Brand Names
7T Gummy ES, Acephen, Aceta, Actamin, Adult Pain Relief, Anacin Aspirin Free, Apra, Children's Acetaminophen, Children's Pain & Fever , Comtrex Sore Throat Relief, ED-APAP, ElixSure Fever/Pain, Feverall, Genapap, Genebs, Goody's Back & Body Pain, Infantaire, Infants' Acetaminophen, LIQUID PAIN RELIEF, Little Fevers, Little Remedies Infant Fever + Pain Reliever, Mapap, Mapap Arthritis Pain, Mapap Infants, Mapap Junior, M-PAP, Nortemp, Ofirmev, Pain & Fever , Pain and Fever , PAIN RELIEF , PAIN RELIEF Extra Strength, Panadol, PediaCare Children's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, PediaCare Children's Smooth Metls Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, PediaCare Infant's Fever Reducer/Pain Reliever, Pediaphen, PHARBETOL, Plus PHARMA, Q-Pap, Q-Pap Extra Strength, Silapap, Triaminic Fever Reducer and Pain Reliever, Triaminic Infant Fever Reducer and Pain Reliever, Tylenol, Tylenol 8 Hour, Tylenol 8 Hour Arthritis Pain, Tylenol 8 Hour Muscle Aches & Pain, Tylenol Arthritis Pain, Tylenol Children's, Tylenol Children's Pain+Fever, Tylenol CrushableTablet, Tylenol Extra Strength, Tylenol Infants', Tylenol Infants Pain + Fever, Tylenol Junior Strength, Tylenol Pain + Fever, Tylenol Regular Strength, Tylenol Sore Throat, XS No Aspirin, XS Pain Reliever
Advil, Advil Children's, Advil Children's Fever, Advil Infants', Advil Junior Strength, Advil Migraine, Caldolor, Children's Ibuprofen, ElixSure IB, Genpril , Ibren , IBU, Midol, Midol Cramps and Body Aches, Motrin, Motrin Children's, Motrin IB, Motrin Infants', Motrin Junior Strength, Motrin Migraine Pain, PediaCare Children's Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer IB, PediaCare Infants' Pain Reliever/Fever Reducer IB, Samson-8
NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: VIEW PROFESSIONAL VERSION
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