Ear Infection Facts

Otitis media is inflammation located in the middle ear. It can occur as a result of a cold, sore throat, or respiratory infection. Learn more about ear infections ›

Symptoms: Middle Ear Infection

A middle ear infection, also called otitis media, is a common, often painful, type of ear infection that occurs behind the eardrum. Middle ear infections are caused by bacteria or viruses. A middle ear infection can interfere with the normal process of hearing and result in ear pain, hearing impairment, and other symptoms. People of all ages can get a middle ear infection; however, it is more common in infants and young children.

Your ear is divided into three sections: the outer ear (includes the ear and ear canal), the middle ear (includes the eardrum and three tiny bones called ossicles), and the inner ear. Hearing occurs when sound waves travel through the outer ear and into the middle ear, where they cause vibration of the eardrum and ossicles. These vibrations are then transmitted through the inner ear, converted into electrical impulses, and translated by the brain as sound.

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Treatment For Ear Infections

Earaches are common during childhood, but a vaccine can ease the pain for thousands of kids.

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, marketed under the brand name Prevnar, was approved by the FDA in 2000. An improved form of the vaccine, Prevnar 13, was approved in 2010.

Prevnar 13 targets the most common strains of pneumococcus, one of the bacteria that causes ear infections, but that also cause many cases of serious illness in infants, such as pneumonia, bacteremia (a blood infection), and meningitis (an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal column). Studies suggest that Prevnar 13 will prevent most—about 80 percent—of these serious infections in children under 5 years old, although it does not prevent all ear infections.

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Living with Ear Infections

Most children have had at least one middle ear infection by the age of 2. Treatment may depend on whether the problem is acute or chronic, as well as how often it comes back and how long it lasts. For many children, reducing risk factors and taking antibiotics are all the treatment that’s needed.

Some behaviors or surroundings increase your child’s risk of ear infection. Reducing such risk factors can be helpful at any point in treatment. The tips below may help.

  • If your child goes to group daycare, he or she runs a greater risk of getting colds or flu. Help prevent these illnesses by teaching your child to wash his or her hands often.

  • If your child has nasal allergies, do your best to control dust, mold, mildew, and pet hair in the house. Also stop or greatly limit your child’s contact with secondhand smoke.

  • If food allergies are a problem, identify the food that triggers the reaction and help your child avoid it. In some children, eating or drinking dairy products causes tissues around the eustachian tube to swell. This may make a blockage more likely.

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Your Guide to Ear Infections


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