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Otitis Media

What is Otitis Media?

Otitis media is an ear infection that causes inflammation right behind the eardrum. Most children experience an ear infection by the time they are three years old. In fact, ear infections are the most common illness in babies and toddlers.

Where Does Otitis Media Come From?

Otitis media usually occurs when viruses and/or bacteria get inside the ear and cause an infection. It often happens as a result of another illness, such as a cold. It is harder for children to fight off ear infections than adults, that's why they develop them more often. It is believed that ear infections may be caused by other factors, such as being around cigarette smoke.

What are the Sign and Symptoms?

It is not always easy to know if your child has an ear infection. Sometimes you have to watch carefully. Otitis media produces pus, fluid, and inflammation within the middle ear. Older children will often complain about ear pain, fullness, or hearing loss. Younger children may seem irritable, fussy, or have a difficult time sleeping, eating, or hearing. Fever may be present in children at any age. If your child isn't old enough to talk, watch for the following signs:

  • Tugging and pulling ears
  • Crying more than usual
  • Fluid draining out of the ears
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Balance problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Not responding to quiet sounds

At the same time, there may be signs of upper respiratory infection, such as a runny or stuffy nose or a cough. An ear infection is usually preceded by 4 to 7 days of upper respiratory tract infection.

If you see any of those signs, call your child's doctor.

Can Otitis Media Affect My Child's Hearing?

Yes. An ear infection can cause temporary hearing problems. Three tiny bones in the middle ear carry sound vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear. When fluid is present, the vibrations are not transmitted efficiently and sound energy is lost. The result may be a mild or even a moderate hearing loss. Speech and language problems can occur at the same time, too, because children learn speech and language from listening to other people talk. The first few years of life are critical for this development. If left untreated, these problems can become more serious.

How is it Treated?

The doctor will examine your child's ear. The doctor may give your child antibiotics. In order to be effective, antibiotics must be taken as prescribed, until they are finished. A few days after the medicine starts working, your child may stop pulling on his or her her and appear to be getting better. This doesn't mean the infection is gone. The medicine must still be taken; if not, the infection can come back.

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