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Inner Ear Infections (Otitis Media)

An inner ear infection is inflammation of the middle ear, most likely resulting from a cold, an allergy or an infection.

What causes an inner ear infection?
The small space behind the eardrum, connected to back of the throat by a tiny channel called the Eustachian tube, is normally filled with air but it may become filled with mucus which typically occurs during a cold. The mucus can then become infected by bacteria or viruses which may lead to an inner ear infection. Sometimes an ear infection just occurs for no apparent reason.
What are the symptoms of an inner ear infection?
The symptoms of an inner ear infection usually start quickly and can include:

  • Loss of hearing or earache
  • High temperature or fever
  • Children may feel sick or vomit and be generally unwell. Young babies may be hot and irritable so if they are crying as well and ear infection may be present
  • Sometimes the eardrum bursts or perforates which lets out the infected mucus and often relieves pain suddenly, making the ear runny for a few days. Most perforations are small and will usually heal when the infection clears up.

What is the treatment for an inner ear infection?
Some ear infections get better by themselves without any treatment, within a few days. Otherwise, you may need to take paracetamol or ibuprofen to treat high fever. Drink lots of fluids and eat as normally as you can. Most ear infections don’t need antibiotics because the immune system can usually clear the bacteria or viruses that cause the infections but if you are concerned, consult your GP. 

There are two treatments for this type of infection:
  • Painkillers. If the ear infection is causing pain or discomfort then painkillers can be taken which will also lower a raised temperature.
  • Antibiotics. These are only prescribed in some cases because usually, the infection will normally clear in a few days, and of course, it is inadvisable to take antibiotics unless the condition is serious. However, if you have a young child under two years old, the infection is severe or is not settling then antibiotics may be required.

What can you do to prevent an inner ear infection?
Many children have bouts of ear infection before they are five years old, caused by common viral infections which circulate in the general population. There is nothing you can do to prevent such infections from occurring as your child will not be immune. However, evidence is building that an ear infection is less likely to develop.

  • In breast-fed children.
  • In children who live in a smoke-free home.
  • In babies and young children who do not use dummies, although there is some controversy about the use of dummies with young children and reducing cot death.
  • If infections are frequent, a specialist may advise the insertion of a grommet into the eardrum. A grommet is a tiny drainage pipe that helps to let fluid escape from the middle ear and air in to dry the space.


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