Otitis media, or middle ear infection, is an ear infection that often occurs as a result of a cold. What are the symptoms and treatments?
Otitis is the second most common infectious disease after rhinopharyngitis (the common cold). Whilst it can affect anyone, it strikes children and infants (between 6 and 36 months) most commonly.
Definition: What Is Otitis Media?
Otitis is an infection or inflammation of the middle ear. There are 3 types of otitis media, all with different causes and symptoms. Acute otitis is an ear infection which usually lasts one to two weeks. Persistent otitis is an ear infection that can last more than 6 weeks. Chronic otitis media occurs when there is a fluid in the middle ear for more than 3 months, without any sign of infection or pain. This is often a complication of acute otitis. Finally, there is recurrent otitis, when otitis resurfaces several times during the same season. It is estimated that by the age of three, at least 85% of children have had otitis media and 50% of children have had at least two bouts of the infection before this age.
Causes Of Otitis
This disease often follows a viral infection. The viruses go back through the auditory tube to the middle ear, following consistent nasal discharge caused by a cold or pharyngitis. In 60 to 70% of cases, a bacterial infection is then associated with the viral infection (this is called bacterial superinfection). More rarely, otitis can also be caused by allergies, air pollutants or respiratory diseases such as a common cold. Ear infections are more common in winter.
Symptoms: How To Recognize An Ear Infection?
The symptoms are not the same in children and adults but usually include pain and a sensation of the ear being blocked or stuffy. In children and infants, the most common signs are:
- high fever
- pains in one or both ears, causing the child to touch the ear often
- crying, irritability, difficulty in falling asleep
- a lack of appetite
- liquid draining from the ear
- a decrease in hearing
In adults, the most common symptoms are:
- pulsating pain in the ear that can radiate into the the head
- a clogged ear sensation and a decrease in hearing
- general discomfort, possibly accompanied by high fever
- possibly a discharge of yellowish secretions from the ear, indicating that the tympanum is pierced
- dizziness, loss of balance
Diagnosis And Treatment: How To Treat Otitis Media?
Whilst ear infection is usually benign, it can be very painful. It is therefore recommended to consult a doctor as soon as the first symptoms appear. During the consultation, the doctor will look inside the ear. If he finds an effusion in the eardrum, it is called purulent otitis, otherwise it is called congestive otitis. Congestive otitis can heal on its own in a few days, however purulent otitis may require treatment with antibiotics. In 80% of cases of otitis, antibiotics will not be needed. Nevertheless, for children under two, as well as severe ear infections, antibiotics are frequently recommended. These medications are mainly prescribed to reduce the risk of mastitis, however complications are rare. In addition to antibiotics, analgesics can be taken to reduce pain as well as ear drops.