Ear infection - acute

Otitis media - acute; Infection - inner ear; Middle ear infection - acute

Ear infections are one of the most common reasons parents take their children to the health care provider. The most common type of ear infection is called otitis media. It is caused by swelling and infection of the middle ear. The middle ear is located just behind the eardrum.

An acute ear infection starts over a short period and is painful. Ear infections that last a long time or come and go are called chronic ear infections.

Ear anatomy

The ear consists of external, middle, and inner structures. The eardrum and the 3 tiny bones conduct sound from the eardrum to the cochlea.

Middle ear infection (otitis media)

Otitis media is an inflammation or infection of the middle ear. Acute otitis media (acute ear infection) occurs when there is bacterial or viral infection of the fluid of the middle ear, which causes production of fluid or pus. Chronic otitis media occurs when the eustachian tube becomes blocked repeatedly due to allergies, multiple infections, ear trauma, or swelling of the adenoids.

Eustachian tube

Ear infections are more common in children because their eustachian tubes are shorter, narrower, and more horizontal than in adults, making the movement of air and fluid difficult. Bacteria can become trapped when the tissue of the eustachian tube becomes swollen from colds or allergies. Bacteria trapped in the eustachian tube may produce an ear infection that pushes on the eardrum causing it to become red, swollen, and sore.

Mastoiditis - side view of head

Mastoiditis is an infection of the bony air cells in the mastoid bone, located just behind the ear. It is rarely seen today because of the use of antibiotics to treat ear infections. This child has drainage from the ear and redness (erythema) behind the ear over the mastoid bone.

Mastoiditis - redness and swelling behind ear

Mastoiditis is an infection of the bony air cells in the mastoid bone, located just behind the ear. It is rarely seen today because of the use of antibiotics to treat ear infections. This child has noticeable swelling and redness behind his right ear because of mastoiditis.

Ear tube insertion - series - Normal anatomy

The tympanic membrane, or eardrum, separates the ear canal from the middle ear.

Causes

Symptoms

Exams and Tests

Treatment

Outlook (Prognosis)

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Prevention