An ear infection (otitis media) occurs when fluid builds up behind the eardrum causing inflammation of the middle ear. Ear infections in children are usually caused by bacteria or viruses that travel along the Eustachian tube from the nasal passages to the middle ear. Ear infections are the most common reason children see their pediatrician.
Types of ear infections in children include:
- Acute otitis media (AOM): Most common type of ear infection in which fluid behind the eardrum causes swelling in the middle ear, pain, and usually fever
- Otitis media with effusion (OME): Occurs when fluid remains behind the eardrum even after the infection has cleared and may have no symptoms
- Chronic otitis media with effusion (COME): Occurs when fluid continuously stays in the ear for long periods or keeps returning even though no infection is present
For children too young to verbalize ear pain, common signs of an ear infection to watch for include:
- Pulling at the ear
- Fluid from the ear
- Trouble sleeping
- Balance or hearing loss problems
- An ear infection is typically treated with 7-10 days of antibiotics and possibly pain relievers or ear drops for ear discomfort.