Skip to Content

Otitis Media in Adults

What is it? Otitis media is an infection of the middle ear, which is behind the eardrum. This infection is very common in young children but anyone can get it. With medicine the infection should be gone in 10 days. You should feel better 2 to 3 days after starting your medicine. If the ear infection is not treated, your eardrum may burst or the infection may spread. Infections can cause life-long hearing problems.

Causes: Otitis media usually begins as an infection. Sometimes, otitis media is caused by a virus. Or otitis media can be caused by a germ called a bacteria getting into the ear canal. The bacteria moves through the eustachian (u-stay-she-un) tube into the ear canal. The eustachian tube acts as a drain and is the tube that joins the middle ear to the back of the nose or throat.

  • The inside of the eustachian tube may swell because the nasal passages are irritated. The eustachian tube cannot drain fluid because the swelling has blocked the tube. Fluid gets trapped inside the middle ear as more fluid is made. This trapped fluid is a perfect place for bacteria to grow to cause an ear infection.
  • The eustachian tube also keeps the air pressure normal in your inner ear. Pressure inside the ear increases when the eustachian tube gets blocked with fluid. This pressure can cause the eardrum in the middle ear to burst. You may have fluid draining from your ear because the fluid cannot drain through the eustachian tube. This is usually not a serious problem because with time the eardrum repairs itself.

Signs and Symptoms: Ear pain is usually the first symptom of an ear infection. You may have trouble hearing and your ears may feel plugged. You may have a fever, headache, ringing in your ear, or dizziness. Other signs are nausea (upset stomach) or vomiting (throwing up). You may also have fluid leaking from your ear if the eardrum has burst.

Care: You may need to take antibiotic (an-ti-bi-ah-tik) medicine to treat the ear infection. You may also need medicine to help pain, achiness, or fever. Caregivers may give you ear drops for your ear pain.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about otitis media. You can then discuss the treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care will be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.