Middle ear infections (otitis media)

Otitis media is an inflammation of the middle ear. When it is infected, it is called “acute otitis media”. The infection can occur in one or both ears. Here are some facts about otitis media:

  • It is the most frequent diagnosis recorded for children who visit physicians for illness. 75% of all children suffer at least one ear infection by age three.
  • It is the most common cause of hearing loss in children.
  • Although it is found most often in young children, it also occasionally affects adults.
  • It typically occurs in the winter and early spring months.

Because a child’s Eustachian tubes are shorter, more horizontal, and straighter than those of adults, bacteria can travel quickly and relatively easily through the tubes. A child’s tubes are also floppier, with smaller openings that easily clog, causing otitis media. When fluid forms in the middle ear, the condition is called “otitis media with effusion,” which can occur with or without infection. This fluid can remain in the ear for weeks to many months. When infected fluid persists or repeatedly returns, this is sometimes called “chronic middle ear infection.”

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