Otitis media has historically been a common health issue, not just in the US but also around the world. Young children are primarily affected by this illness. Otitis media is most common between the ages of 6 and 24 months, and incidence decline after that.  This condition does, however, affect older kids, teenagers, and adults. AOM accounts for about 22 million doctor visits related to AOM each year in the US.

For unexplained reasons, AOM seems to affect men more frequently than women. A prominent indicator of recurrent AOM is the age of the initial episode of infection (particularly before the age of 6 to 12 months). Infants who are breastfeed for three months or longer have a lower risk of developing AOM. Otitis media is substantially more common and severe in native American, first nation, Alaskan, Canadian Inuit, and other indigenous populations.

Can you define what an ear infection is?

A middle ear infection, typically brought on by bacteria, is an inflammation that develops when fluid behind the eardrum becomes clogged. Ear infections can affect anybody, but children are more susceptible than adults. By the time they turn three, at least one ear infection will affect five out of every six kids. Actually, ear infections are the most frequent cause for parents to take their kids to the doctor. Otitis media is the medical term for an ear infection (OM).

What are the signs that indicate an ear infection?

Ear infections come in three primary varieties. Each exhibits a unique set of symptoms.

Acute otitis media (AOM) 

The most typical ear infection is acute otitis media (AOM). The fluid beneath the eardrum is trapped, and the middle ear is infected and enlarged in some areas. This results in ear pain, also known as an earache and can present with a fever.

Otitis media with effusion (OME)

Otitis media with effusion (OME) is also very common and usually develops when an ear infection has resolved but fluid continues to build up behind the eardrum. Even if a child has OME, a doctor using a specialized tool can see the fluid behind the eardrum.

Chronic otitis media with effusion (COME)

Even when there is no infection, chronic otitis media with effusion (COME) can develop when fluid stays in the middle ear for an extended period of time or keeps coming back. Children who have COME have a harder time fending off new infections, and it may also damage their hearing.

How can I identify an ear infection in my child?

Most childhood ear infections occur before a child can speak. Here are a few signs to watch out for if your child isn’t old enough to express, “My ear aches.”

What to look for:

  • Tugging or ear pulling
  • Fussiness and crying
  • Issues with sleeping
  • High Fever (especially in infants and adolescences)
  • Drainage of fluid from the ear
  • Unsteadiness or balance issues
  • Difficulty hearing or reacting to sounds

Why do ears get infected?

Bacteria typically cause ear infections, which frequently start after a kid has a sore throat, cold, or another upper respiratory infection. If the cause of the upper respiratory infection is a virus, such as a cold, bacteria may be enticed to the microbe-friendly environment and move into the middle ear as a secondary infection. If the upper respiratory infection is caused by bacteria, these same bacteria may transfer to the middle ear. The infection causes fluid to accumulate behind the eardrum.


The outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear are the three main components of the ear. The curved flap of the ear leading down to the earlobe is part of the outer ear, also known as the pinna, along with the ear canal, which starts at the entry to the ear and extends to the eardrum. The eardrum a membrane diaphragm that divides the middle ear from the outer ear.

Between the eardrum and the inner ear is where infections develop and its typically called the middle ear. The malleus, incus, and stapes, three small bones located in the middle ear, are suspended in air and are responsible for carrying sound waves from the eardrum to the inner ear.

The labyrinth which is located in our inner ear, assists us with maintaining our balance. The cochlea, a component of the labyrinth, is an organ with the shape of a snail that transforms middle ear sound waves into electrical signals. These impulses are sent from the cochlea to the brain via the auditory nerve.

Ear infections might potentially affect other surrounding ear structures. The middle ear and the top section of the throat are connected by a tiny tube called the Eustachian tube. Its duties include providing the middle ear with fresh air, removing fluid, and keeping a steady air pressure between the nose and the ear.

Adenoids are tiny tissue pads that are found above the throat, next to the Eustachian tubes, and behind the back of the nose. Immune system cells make up the majority of adenoids. By trapping microorganisms that enter through the mouth, they prevent infection.

Dr. Andres Godinez

Doctor of Audiology