Otitis media is infection in the middle ear. The ear has three parts; outer ear, middle ear and inner ear. The outer ear consists of the visible part known as the pinna and the ear canal up to the eardrum or tympanic membrane. The middle ear is an air-filled cavity which has three bones – the malleus, incus and stapes. The sound waves cause the eardrum to vibrate which is transferred to the inner ear through these bones. The inner ear contains sensory organs for hearing. Any infection in the middle ear is termed as otitis media.
Otitis media can majorly be of three types:
- Acute otitis media refers to the appearance of signs and symptoms of fluid build-up such as redness, swelling and itching. Symptoms usually occur suddenly in this condition.
- Otitis media with effusion which refers to fluid and mucus accumulation in the middle ear following an infection.
- Chronic otitis media with effusion refers to a condition in which the fluid and mucus accumulation lasts for a longer duration in the ear and recurs often even after the infection has subsided.
Otitis media is caused by a bacterial or viral infection. The infections can occur a possibility due to the following conditions:
- Cold or allergy
- Flu or fever
- Swelling of Eustachian tubes
- Malformation of eustachian tube
- Swelling of adenoids
Common symptoms of otitis media include:
- Fluid draining from the ear
- Loss of balance
- Hearing difficulties
- Loss of appetite
- Ear pain
- Difficulty sleeping
- Fussiness and crying more than usual (in children)
- Pulling at an ear (in children)
Diagnosis of otitis media can be made based on the following:
- Review of signs and symptoms
- Medical history
- Physical examination
- Otoscopic examination
- Audiological evaluation
Preventive measure for otitis media include:
- Avoid smoking including second-hand smoking.
- Take good care to prevent cold, allergies and other infections.
- In the case of babies, breastfeed them till almost one year of age as the antibodies in breast milk reduces the risk of infections. If bottle feeding is done, hold the baby in an upright angle so that the fluids do not drain into the middle ear through the eustachian tube.
- Get children immunised on time.
Some cases of otitis media get cured without treatment. When treatment is necessary, it depends on several factors like age and severity of the symptoms.
- Antibiotics are used to fight bacterial infections.
- Pain medications and anaesthetic drops may be prescribed to relieve ear pain.
- Surgery: a surgical procedure may be done in cases where there is continuous and prolonged fluid discharge from the ear. The surgeon places a tympanostomy tube in the ear to suction fluids out of the middle ear.
- Continuous monitoring and observation might be required in cases with recurrent and frequent ear infections.
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