Otitis Media (OM)

What Is Otitis Media (OM)?

Otitis media is an inflammatory condition of the middle ear and is the most common cause of hearing loss in children. It occurs when fluid builds up in the air-filled spaces of the middle ear, leading to pain and a decrease in hearing. Otitis media is a bacterial or viral infection that affects the middle ear. The most common symptoms include ear fullness, pain, fever, ear drainage, and hearing loss. If left untreated, OM can lead to permanent hearing loss and other complications.

Causes of Otitis Media

The most common cause of otitis media is bacteria or viruses. Children are more likely to develop otitis media than adults, because their ear canals are narrower and contain more fluid than adult ear canals. Other factors that increase the chance of developing otitis media may include: allergies, environmental factors such as dust, smoke, or air pollution, and recent upper respiratory tract infections.

Risk Factors for Otitis Media

The primary risk factor for otitis media is age. Children under the age of 2 are more likely to develop otitis media than adults. Other risk factors include:
  • Recent upper respiratory tract infections
  • Environment, particularly living in a crowded area
  • Children who attend daycare
  • Lack of breastfeeding
  • Premature birth
  • Tobacco smoke exposure

Complications of Otitis Media

If left untreated, otitis media can lead to permanent hearing loss and other complications such as persistent ear infection, speech delay, and balance problems. In rare cases, complications of otitis media can include meningitis, facial paralysis, and brain abscesses.

Treatment for Otitis Media

The treatment for otitis media depends on the severity of the infection and your age.
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the bacterial infection
  • Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter pain relievers may be used to help relieve pain and fever.
  • Ear Drops: Antibiotic ear drops may be prescribed to treat the infection and reduce inflammation.
  • Surgery: Surgery may be recommended if the infection is severe or if the eardrum has been damaged.

Prevention of Otitis Media

Otitis media can be prevented by taking certain measures to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Encourage children to wash their hands often.
  • Avoid exposure to smoke and other air pollutants.
  • Keep children away from crowds and other areas where illnesses are common.
  • Breastfeed infants as long as possible.
  • Get medical treatment for upper respiratory tract infections promptly.