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Acute Otitis Media

Alternative Names

Otitis media - acute; Infection - inner ear; Middle ear infection - acute

Definition of Ear infection - acute:

Ear infections are one of the most common reasons parents take their children to the doctor. While there are different types of ear infections, the most common is called otitis media, which means an inflammation and infection of the middle ear. The middle ear is located just behind the eardrum.

The term "acute" refers to a short and painful episode. An ear infection that lasts a long time or comes and goes is called chronic otitis media.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

For each ear, a eustachian tube runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat. This tube drains fluid that is normally made in the middle ear. If the eustachian tube becomes blocked, fluid can build up. When this happens, germs such as bacteria and viruses can multiply and cause an infection.

Ear infections are common in infants and children, in part because the eustachian tubes become easily clogged. Anything that causes the eustachian tubes to become swollen or blocked causes more fluids to build up in the middle ear behind the eardrum. These causes include:

  • Colds and sinus infections
  • Allergies
  • Tobacco smoke or other irritants
  • Infected or overgrown adenoids( Enlarged mass presents behind nasal air passage)
  • Excess mucus and saliva produced during teething

Ear infections are also more likely if a child spends a lot of time drinking from a sippy cup or bottle while lying on his or her back. Contrary to popular opinion, getting water in the ears will not cause an acute ear infection, unless the eardrum has a hole from a previous episode.

Ear infections occur most often in the winter. You cannot catch an ear infection from someone else, but a cold may spread among children and cause some of them to get ear infections.

Risk factors for ear infections include the following:

  • Not being breastfed
  • Recent ear infection
  • Recent illness of any type (lowers resistance of the body to infection)
  • Day care (especially with more than 6 children)
  • Pacifier use
  • Genetic factors (susceptibility to infection may run in families)
  • Changes in altitude or climate
  • Cold climate

Adults can also have ear infections, although they are less common than in children.