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Otitis Media

What is otitis media?

Otitis media is an ear infection.

What causes otitis media?

You may get an ear infection when your eustachian tubes become swollen or blocked. Eustachian tubes connect the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat. They drain fluid from the middle ear. With an ear infection, fluid builds up and is infected by germs, which grow easily in the fluid trapped behind the eardrum.

What are the signs and symptoms of otitis media?

  • You have a fever or a headache.

  • You have ear pain.

  • You have trouble hearing.

  • Your ear may feel plugged or full. You may have ringing or buzzing in your ear.

  • You may be dizzy or lose your balance.

  • You may have nausea or vomiting.

How is otitis media diagnosed?

Your caregiver will look inside your ears. He may blow a puff of air inside your ears. These tests tell caregivers if your eardrums look healthy. If your eardrum is infected, it will look red and swollen and not move as it should. A tympanogram is another test that may be done. During the test, an ear plug is put into each of your ears and air pressure is used to see how the eardrum moves. It can help your caregiver learn if you have fluid in your middle ear.

How is otitis media treated?

  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: These help decrease your pain and fever. They are available without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. These medicines can cause stomach bleeding if not taken correctly. Ibuprofen can cause kidney damage. Do not take ibuprofen if you have kidney disease, an ulcer, or allergies to aspirin. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Do not drink alcohol if you take acetaminophen.

  • Ear drops: These help treat your ear pain.

  • Antibiotics: These help kill the germs that caused your ear infection.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Heat: Place a warm, moist washcloth on your ear to decrease pain. Apply for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day

  • Ice: Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Use an ice pack or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the ice pack with a towel and place it on your ear for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 to 4 times a day for 2 days.

How can I help prevent otitis media?

  • Wash your hands often: This will help prevent the spread of germs. Encourage everyone in your house to wash their hands with soap and water after they use the bathroom. Everyone should also wash their hands after they change a child's diaper and before they prepare or eat food.

  • Stay away from people who are ill: Germs are easily and quickly spread through contact.

What are the risks of otitis media?

You may have an ear infection more than once. Frequent ear infections can cause hearing loss. Without treatment, fluid can build up and put pressure on your eardrum. This can cause your eardrum to burst. The infection can spread to your sinuses or other parts of your head.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your ear pain gets worse or does not go away, even after treatment.

  • The outside of your ear is red or swollen.

  • You are vomiting or have diarrhea.

  • You have fluid coming from your ear.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have a seizure.

  • You have a fever and a stiff neck.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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