Acute otitis media is an infection of the middle ear, the area of the ear directly behind the tympanic membrane (ear drum). Acute otitis media is one
of the most commonly diagnosed childhood illnesses and is responsible for
more than 30 million clinic visits a year in the United States.
The September 24, 2003, issue of JAMA includes
an article on diagnosing acute otitis media in children.
Acute otitis media usually starts when germs that cause colds or sore
throats (either bacterial or viral infections) spread to the middle ear. Once
in the ear, the infection can cause a buildup of pus or fluid behind the eardrum.
The pressure on the eardrum can lead to significant pain in some children.
Physicians diagnose acute otitis media using an otoscope, an instrument placed in the opening of the ear that allows the doctor
to look at the eardrum. Inflammation of the eardrum can indicate an infection.
Lack of movement of the eardrum can also indicate infection. If there is fluid
or pus behind the eardrum, it usually does not move easily.
Ear pain or pulling at one or both ears
Fluid coming from one or both ears
These symptoms can occur for other reasons, so it is important for children
with these symptoms to be evaluated by a physician.
Acute otitis media may be treated with antibiotics if there is a bacterial
infection. When children have recurrent or chronic (persisting long-term)
otitis media, it may be necessary to have a tympanostomy
tube placed in the eardrum. The tube falls out naturally after several
months and the hole heals naturally. Treatment depends on the characteristics
of each child, so it is important for your child to have an evaluation if
these symptoms develop.
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
American Academy of Pediatrics847/434-4000http://www.aap.org
To find this and other Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page Index on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. A Patient
Page on childhood ear infections was published in the December 8, 1999, issue.
Sources: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders,
American Academy of Pediatrics
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate
in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For
specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied
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TOPIC: EAR INFECTIONS
Parmet S, Lynm C, Glass RM. Acute Otitis Media. JAMA. 2003;290(12):1666. doi:10.1001/jama.290.12.1666