Earaches and Otitis Media

In Denver and Lone Tree, Colorado

What is Otitis Media?

Otitis media means “inflammation of the middle ear” as a result of a middle ear infectionIt can occur in one or both earsOtitis media is the most frequent diagnosis for children who visit physicians for illnessIt is also the most common cause of hearing loss in childrenAlthough otitis media is most common in young childrenit occasionally affects adults.

Is it serious?

Yesbecause of the severe earache and hearing loss it can causeHearing lossespecially in childrenmay impair learning capacity and even delay speech developmentHoweverif it is treated promptly and effectivelyhearing can almost always be restored to normalOtitis media is also serious because the infection can spread to nearby structures in the headespecially the mastoidImmediate attention from one of our physicians is the best action.

Earache Symptoms

In infants and toddlerslook for: Pulling or scratching at the ear (especially if accompanied by other symptoms)hearing problemscryingirritabilityfeverand/or ear drainage.

In young childrenadolescentsand adults look for earachefeeling of fullness or pressurehearing problemsdizzinessloss of balancenauseavomitingear drainageand/or fever.

Rememberwithout proper treatmentdamage from an ear infection can cause chronic or permanent hearing loss.

How does the ear work?

The outer ear collects soundsThe middle ear is a pea-sizedair-filled cavity separated from the outer ear by the paper-thin eardrumInside the middle ear are three tiny ear bonesWhen sound waves strike the eardrumit vibrates and sets the bones in motion that transmit to the inner ear.

The inner ear converts vibrations to electrical signals and sends these signals to the brainA healthy middle ear has the same atmospheric pressure as air outside of the earallowing free vibrationAir enters the middle ear through the narrow eustachian tube that connects the back of the nose to the ear.

Causes of Otitis Media

Blockage of the eustachian tube during a coldallergyor upper respiratory infectionand the presence of bacteria or viruses lead to a build-up of pus and mucus behind the eardrumThis infection is called acute otitis mediaThe build-up of pressurized pus in the middle ear causes painswellingand rednessSince the eardrum cannot vibrate properlyhearing problems may occurSometimes the eardrum ruptures and pus drains out of the earMore commonlyhoweverthe pus and mucus remain in the middle ear due to the swollen and inflamed eustachian tubeThis is called middle ear effusion or serous otitis mediaOften after the acute infection has passedthe effusion remains lasting for weeksmonthsor even yearsThis condition allows frequent recurrences of the acute infection and may cause difficulty in hearing.

What will happen at our office?

During an examinationone of our physicians will use an otoscope to look at and assess the earHe checks for redness in the earfluid behind the eardrumand to see if the eardrum movesThese are the signs of an ear infection.

Two other tests may also be performed:

  • Audiogram: Tests if hearing loss has occurred by presenting tones at various pitches.
  • Tympanogram: Measures the air pressure in the middle ear to see how well the eustachian tube is working and how well the eardrum can move.

How should medication be taken?

It is important that all the medications be taken as directed and that you keep any follow-up visitsOftenantibiotics to fight the infection will make the earache go away rapidlybut the infection may need more time to clear upOther medications that your physician may prescribe include an antihistamine (for allergies)a decongestant (especially with a cold)or bothSometimes he may recommend a medication to reduce fever and/or painSpecial ear drops can ease the painCall us if you have any questions about yours or your child’s medicationor if symptoms do not clear (303-706-1616).

What other treatment may be necessary?

If your child experiences multiple episodes of acute otitis media within a short timehearing lossor chronic otitis media lasts for more than three monthsone of our physicians may recommend placement of ventilation tubesalso called pressure-equalization (PE) tubesThis is a short surgical procedure in which a small incision is made in the eardrumany fluid is suctioned outand a tube is placed in the eardrumThis tube eventually will fall out on its own and the eardrum healsThere is usually an improvement in hearing and a decrease in further infections with PE tube placement.

Otitis media may recur as a result of chronically infected adenoids and tonsilsIf this becomes a problemone of our physicians may recommend removal of one or bothThis can be done at the same time as ventilation tubes are inserted.