The human ear has three parts – outer, middle
and inner. All three can get infected. Otitis
media is an infection of the middle ear. It is most
common in children and peaks between six
and 18 months. The cause may be a bacteria
or virus. It can affect one or both ears and may
come with a “cold” type illness or just by itself. It
is more common in Indigenous children.
Typical symptoms of otitis media are a painful
ear. There may be a sore throat in the lead up or
concurrently. Fever may be present but it is usually
mild. Children may lose appetite and be distressed –
especially younger children.
When diagnosed, the ear drum is typically bright red
in colour when infected and there may be fluid in the
middle ear “behind the drum”. Glands in the neck
may be enlarged and the throat may be inflamed too.
There is generally no need for blood tests.
Current thinking is that most infections are viral and
after two to three days will settle without antibiotics.
Some cases may still require antibiotics. Pain relief
is important as is comforting your child. Maintain
hydration but if the child’s appetite is low there is no
need to force this.
Children with repeated middle ear infections can
develop glue ear where fluid stays in the middle ear
and does not drain to the sinuses. This can impact on
hearing. Children with glue ear may benefit from the
insertion of grommet tubes by an ENT surgeon.