What is otitis media? 

Otitis media is the term used to describe redness and swelling (or inflammation) of the internal workings of the ear that sit behind the ear drum.   

It is common and affects children more frequently than it affects adults.   


What does it feel like? 

Otitis media causes pain and loss of hearing in the affected ear.  Adults and older children will be able to explain this pain but babies cannot and so they present in a different way.  Babies with otitis media usually cry more, seem unsettled and may lose their appetite.  As the condition is an infection, they may also have a fever and other features of an infection, such as a runny nose or a cough. 


Sometimes the infection can cause a build up of fluid behind the ear drum.  It is not uncommon to see this fluid build to such a pressure that the ear drum bursts. Patients often describe this as quite relieving as the pressure and pain ease leaving some hearing loss until the eardrum heals itself. 


How did I get it? 

Otitis media is an infection that can be caused by either a virus or a bacteria. 

It is more common in those who smoke and in children who are exposed to passive smoking.  It is also more common in formula fed babies an those that attend nurseries. 


How long will it last? 

Symptoms of otitis media usually resolve within 24 hours of their onset in 60% of cases. 

Current advice is to consider a medical review if the condition has not improved within 3 days.   

If the condition lasts for 6 weeks or more or you are getting frequent recurrence of the condition we will normally talk to you about the benefit of a referral to an Ear Nose and Throat specialist. 


Do I need any treatment? 

Most cases of otitis media pass on their own without any treatment. 

Pain relief is helpful.  Examples include paracetamol and ibuprofen which are both available over the counter without the need of a prescription. 

Antibiotics may be considered where the person appears seriously unwell or in those who are at risk of or present with a more serious underlying condition. 


How can I help? 

As otitis media is an infection which tends to cause a raised temperature, there is always a risk of dehydration.  Try to stay well hydrated. 

Paracetamol and ibuprofen often help to ease the discomfort. 

Avoid use of dummies, smoking, and feeding when laying flat. 

Also avoid flying when the condition is active – it can cause a lot of pain and perforation of the ear drum. 


Is this dangerous? 

Usually, no.  Long term complications are rare in otitis media.