Otitis Media: Meaning, Diagnosis and Overview

What is Otitis Media?

Otitis media refers to inflammation of the middle ear. When infection occurs, the condition is called "acute otitis media." It is most common in babies and young children, but can occur in adults as well.
The middle ear is a small space behind the ear drum that is supposed to be well ventilated by air that normally passes up from behind the nose, through the eustachian tube, keeping the middle ear clean and dry. When an infection occurs it leads to the accumulation of pus and mucus behind the eardrum, blocking the Eustachian tube. This causes earache and swelling. When fluid forms in the middle ear, the condition is known as "otitis media with effusion."

Recovery Time

Most bouts of ear infection will clear on their own without treatment within 3-5 days. The immune system can usually clear germs (bacteria or viruses) that cause ear infections. It is common for some mucus to remain behind the eardrum after the infection clears. This may cause dulled hearing for a while. This usually clears within a week or so and hearing then returns to normal.


Diagnosis is done by physical examination of the ear by using an otoscope to look in the ear to see if there is any inflammation or fluid in the middle ear. Your doctor may perform other diagnostic tests like
  • Tympanometry
  • Acoustic reflectometry
  • Tympanocentesis 

FAQs prepared by doctor

1. What is otitis media?
Otitis media is an inflammatory condition of the middle ear that results from dysfunction of the eustachian tube in association with a number of illnesses. The inflammatory response to these conditions leads to the development of a sterile transudate within the middle ear and mastoid cavities. Infection may occur if bacteria or viruses from the nasopharynx contaminate this fluid, producing an acute (or sometimes chronic) illness.

2. Why is otitis media so common in children?
The Eustachian tube, a passage between the middle ear and the back of the throat, is smaller and more nearly horizontal in children than in adults. Therefore, it can be more easily blocked by conditions such as large adenoids and infections. Until the Eustachian tube changes in size and angle, children are more susceptible to otitis media.

3. How much time it takes to recover?
Within 5-7 days patient starts feeling better.

4. When shall one consult a doctor immediately?
Severe ear pain
Hearing problems
Temperature higher than 100.4ø F
Discharge of blood or pus from the ears
Dizziness, Stiff neck, or cannot walk normally

5. What are the complications of otitis media?
Possible complications include hearing impairment (which is usually temporary, but can become permanent), enlarged adenoids, and rarely meningitis

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