Otitis media is an infection or inflammation occurring in the middle ear. This infection is common in children, but can also happen in adults. Life-threatening complications are very rare with otitis media, however, they may develop because the middle ear is so close to the middle and posterior cranial fossa. Because otitis media has a high prevalence with the potential to cause serious harm, it is a public health concern.
Otitis media is often a result of another illness, such as a cold or flu. It is caused by a bacterium or virus in the middle ear following congestion and swelling in the ears, nose, or throat.
The onset of symptoms of otitis media is typically rapid. Some common signs in adults include:
- Pain in the ear
- Diminished hearing
- Fluid drainage from the ear
Adults who had recurrent ear infections as a child may have complications related to dysfunction of the eustachian tube. However, adults may also experience a new onset of middle ear infections, which can be diagnosed by a physician.
A doctor can typically diagnose otitis media based on the symptoms presented by the patient. The doctor usually uses an otoscope to look inside the ears, throat, and nasal passages. The doctor will also listen to a patient breathing with a stethoscope.
Acute otitis media is a self-limiting disease, as long as the patient does not develop complications from the infection. At the current time, antibiotics are the best and most common initial therapy of choice for otitis media. Some other pharmacologic therapies that have been used to treat otitis media include analgesics and antipyretics. These play an important role in the management of symptoms. Decongestants and antihistamines may help to relieve some of the nasal symptoms that come along with otitis media, but they do not appear to have an effect on the infection itself.
There are some risk factors of otitis media in adults, including poor tubal function. When the eustachian tube, which begins in the back of the nose next to the soft palate, doesn't function normally, the body's fluid or bacteria can become trapped inside of the ear, leading to an infection.
Some people may be more prone to this than others. Some risk factors include:
- Presence of upper respiratory tract infections
- Seasonal allergies
- Mucosal disease in the ears, nose, or throat
- Enlarged adenoids or turbinates in the ears, nose, or throat
- Craniofacial disorders such as cleft palate
- Weakened immune system
In order to avoid otitis media, it is best to keep your ears as dry as possible. Use ear plugs before swimming or bathing if you are prone to ear infections and gently dry your ears with a hair blow dryer on a low setting after exposing your ears to water. Also, avoid inserting objects into the ear or swimming in dirty water.
Chronic ear infections can have a large impact on your quality of life. A general physician can treat isolated cases of otitis media, however, if you have frequent ear infections as an adult, it is best to see an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist to help identify the underlying issue.