The middle ear is the small part of the ear just inside the eardrum; it is connected to the throat through a small tube. This part of the ear can get infected when germs from the nose and throat are trapped following the blockage of the connecting tube, usually during a cold. A physician evaluation is required to make the diagnosis and to begin appropriate treatment. Middle ear infections are more common in young children and usually show up as ear pain and fever, which can sometimes be high.
Symptoms of middle ear infections include:
- Earache (ranging from mild to severe). Babies with middle ear infections may cry, fuss and tug at their ears.
- A plugged feeling in the ears accompanied by trouble hearing.
- Thick, yellow discharge (when the infection has caused the eardrum to burst, fluid to flow out and pain to subside; this is not a serious condition and the eardrum usually heals on its own).
Many ear infections go away without treatment; however, eardrops or antibiotics may be prescribed, depending on the severity of the infection and the age of the child. Over-the-counter pain relievers containing acetaminophen such as Tylenol may help, as does applying a warm (not hot) washcloth or heating pad on the ear, and rest. Do not give aspirin to persons under age 19.
Ear infections may cause temporary difficulty with hearing. Seek medical attention especially for hearing in young children, since the ability to learn to talk is affected by hearing.