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Middle Ear Infection

A middle ear infection occurs behind the eardrum. It is most often caused by a virus or bacteria. Most kids have at least one middle ear infection by the time they are 3 years old, but adults can also get them.

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Our Otology & Neurotology subspecialists bring their advanced training and expertise in neurologic and structural disorders of the ear to diagnose and treat every patient. At UC Health, our team works closely with neurosurgeons to deliver leading-edge procedures to treat even the most complex conditions.

To schedule an appointment, please call the UC Health Otology & Neurotology team at 513-475-8400. For cochlear implant or bone-anchored hearing aid appointments, you can reach us at cochlearimplant@uchealth.com.

About This Condition

Understanding Middle Ear Infection

What causes middle ear infections?

Inflammation in the middle ear most often starts after you’ve had a sore throat, cold, or other upper respiratory problems. The infection spreads to the middle ear and causes fluid buildup behind the eardrum. 

What are the symptoms of a middle ear infection?

These are the most common symptoms of middle ear infections in adults:

  • Ear pain.

  • Feeling of fullness in the ear.

  • Fluid draining from the ear.

  • Fever.

  • Hearing loss.

These symptoms may look like other conditions or health problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a middle ear infection diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your health history and do a physical exam. He or she will check the outer ear and the eardrum using an otoscope. The otoscope is a lighted tool that lets the healthcare provider see inside the ear. A pneumatic otoscope blows a puff of air into the ear to test eardrum movement. When there is fluid or infection in the middle ear, movement is decreased.

Your provider may also do a tympanometry. This is a test that directs air and sound to the middle ear.

If you have ear infections often, your healthcare provider may suggest having a hearing test.

How is a middle ear infection treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics.

  • Pain relievers.

  • Placing small tubes in the eardrum for chronic ear infections.

What are the possible complications of a middle ear infection?

Untreated ear infections can lead to:

  • Infection in other parts of the head.

  • Lasting (permanent) hearing loss.

  • Speech and language problems.

Can middle ear infections be prevented?

Cold and allergy medicines don't seem to prevent ear infections. And currently there is no vaccine that can prevent the disease. But check with your healthcare provider and make sure your vaccines are up-to-date. Living in a home where cigarettes are smoked can increase the chances of ear infections.

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