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Middle Ear Infections

What Are The Symptoms Of Middle Ear Infection?

Last updated on:
19/04/2012

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Before an ear infection ever develops, your child is likely to have symptoms of a cold.

  • At first your child may have the sniffles, with clear, runny fluid in the nose (mucous).
  • Nasal stuffiness, or congestion, may come next, marked by thicker, yellowish mucous.
  • Some children have a low-grade fever.
  • Sore throat is common.
  • Your child may develop a cough.

Within a few days, an ear infection (acute otitis media) may begin. The symptoms may vary depending on the age of the child. Infants may show the following symptoms:

  • Inability to stop crying (the most reliable symptom in babies)
  • Restlessness
  • Fever of 100 to 104 degrees Farenheit
  • Inability to sleep soundly
  • Tugging at the ear

Toddlers and children may show slightly different signs of an ear infection, including:

  • Complaints of an earache
  • Fever of 100 to 104 degrees Farenheit
  • Waking during the night

You also may see:

  • Redness around the ear, caused by repeated tugging
  • Clear, yellowish, or blood-tinged fluid coming from the child's ear or on the child's pillow, which could be a sign that the eardrum has ruptured as a result of the pressure from the fluid behind it

The doctor may see:

  • Redness of the eardrum
  • Fluid behind the eardrum
  • Bulging of the eardrum with pus, indicating a severe infection
  • Clear or pus-like material in the ear canal from a ruptured eardrum

Need To Know:

Is it dangerous if my child's eardrum ruptures because of an ear infection?

A. A ruptured eardrum almost always will heal in its own. In rare cases, if it does not, surgery may be performed to close up the hole in the eardrum. A ruptured eardrum can be painful - but for many children, it actually relieves the pain caused by a middle ear infection. That's because the fluid that built up behind the eardrum, which caused the pain, is released through the hole.

Nice To Know:

Why is my child prone to middle ear infections?

A. The middle ear is filled with air that travels through the eustachian tube to the back of the nose. The eustachian tube equalizes middle ear pressure and helps drain fluids in the ear. In babies and toddlers, the eustachian tube is shorter, narrower, and less rigid than in an adult, so when the child has a cold, germs can more easily pass from the back of the nose and throat into the middle ear. When this happens, the eustachian tube swells and closes, trapping infected fluid in the middle ear, which creates a breeding ground for germs.

Nice To Know:

Keeping a watchful eye on symptoms

After seeing the doctor, children with mild symptoms should be watched for several days to see whether the infection clears. Those who have severe symptoms or who seem to be getting worse may need to be seen again. They may need treatment to clear the infection, perhaps antibiotics.

Children who do not respond to antibiotics may need an incision in the eardrum called a myringotomy to remove fluid and identify the bacteria.

 
 

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.