In Denver and Lone Tree, Colorado

Otitis media means “inflammation of the middle ear” as a result of a middle ear infection. It can occur in one or both ears. Otitis media is the most frequent diagnosis for children who visit physicians for illness. It is also the most common cause of hearing loss in children. Although otitis media is most common in young children, it occasionally affects adults.

Otitis media can be serious because of the severe earache and hearing loss it can cause. Hearing loss, especially in children, may impair learning capacity and even delay speech development. However, if it is treated promptly and effectively, hearing can almost always be restored to normal. Otitis media is also serious because the infection can spread to nearby structures in the head, especially the mastoid.

Earache Symptoms

In infants and toddlers, signs and symptoms may include

  • Pulling or scratching at the ear (especially if accompanied by other symptoms)
  • Hearing problems
  • Crying
  • Irritability 
  • Fever 
  • Ear drainage

In young children, adolescents, and adults signs and symptoms may include

  • Earache
  • A feeling of fullness or pressure
  • Hearing problems
  • Dizziness 
  • Loss of balance
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Ear drainage
  • Fever 

Remember, without proper treatment, damage from an ear infection can cause chronic or permanent hearing loss.

Causes of Otitis Media

Blockage of the Eustachian tube during a cold, allergy, or upper respiratory infection, and the presence of bacteria or viruses lead to a build-up of pus and mucus behind the eardrum. This infection is called acute otitis media. The build-up of pressurized pus in the middle ear causes pain, swelling, and redness. Since the eardrum cannot vibrate properly, hearing problems may occur. Sometimes the eardrum ruptures and pus drains out of the ear. More commonly, however, the pus and mucus remain in the middle ear due to the swollen and inflamed Eustachian tube. This is called middle ear effusion or serous otitis media. Often after the acute infection has passed, the effusion remains lasting for weeks, months, or even years. This condition allows frequent recurrences of the acute infection and may cause difficulty in hearing.

Diagnosing Otitis Media

During an examination, your ENT doctor will use an otoscope to look at and assess the ear, checking for redness in the ear, fluid behind the eardrum, and to see if the eardrum moves. These 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.

Treatment Options for Otitis Media

Medication may be prescribed to treat otitis media. It is important that all the medication be taken as directed and that you keep any follow-up visits. Often, antibiotics to fight the infection will make the earache go away rapidly, but the infection may need more time to clear up. Other medications that your ENT doctor may prescribe include an antihistamine (for allergies), a decongestant (especially with a cold), or both. Sometimes your doctor may recommend a medication to reduce fever and/or pain. Special ear drops can ease the pain. Call us if you have any questions about yours or your child’s medication, or if symptoms do not clear (303-706-1616).

If your child experiences multiple episodes of acute otitis media within a short time, hearing loss, or chronic otitis media lasting for more than 3 months, your ENT doctor may recommend the placement of ventilation tubes, also called pressure-equalization (PE) tubes. This is a short surgical procedure in which a small incision is made in the eardrum, any fluid is suctioned out, and a tube is placed in the eardrum. This tube eventually will fall out on its own and the eardrum heals. There is usually an improvement in hearing and a decrease in further infections with PE tube placement.

If otitis media recurs as a result of chronically infected adenoids and tonsils, your doctor may recommend the removal of one or both. This can be done at the same time as ventilation tubes are inserted.

Contact Us

If you or your child has an ongoing issue with earaches, please call Integrated ENT at
(303) 706-1616 to schedule an appointment for an assessment of otitis media. You can also request an appointment online.