Otitis Media

Otitis media. That’s a strange term. But what it describes is familiar to most of us - unfortunately. Most of us call it an earache, or an ear infection.

Otitis media is a particular kind of earache that is caused by an infection in the middle ear. Your middle ear is an air filled space between your ear drum and your inner ear. Your middle ear is also connected to your “Eustachian Tube”. This tube has the job of keeping the correct air pressure in your middle ear. You know the feeling you get in your ears when you go up a high hill, or in a plane and you’ve chewed gum or yawned to unplug your ears and you’ve felt that “popping” sound – you’ve just helped your Eustachian Tube correct the pressure in your middle ear.

But if you have a cold, the virus can infect the Eustachian tube, causing it to swell and you may feel a “full” feeling in your ear, or your ears feel plugged. This often happens with a cold, and usually it goes away by itself as your cold gets better. But it can also be caused by bacteria. This can be more severe and you may have a fever with it. Pay attention to this, because you may need to see your doctor and get some antibiotics in order for it to go away. This condition can be caused by either a virus or a bacteria.

Sometimes even when you don’t have an infection, a collection of fluid occurs within the middle ear space. This could have been caused by a virus, even if you didn’t notice any pain or bacterial infection. Sometimes this fluid in the middle ear can interfere with your hearing. Over weeks and months, the middle ear fluid can become very thick and glue-like, thus the name "Glue Ear". This also may require a visit to your doctor.

If you are involved in water sports such as diving, water skiing or surfing, and you get slapped hard by the water, this can cause a hole or perforation in your ear drum. Again, this lets bacteria into your middle ear, and you might then get an infection. Often the hole in your ear drum will heal by itself, but not always. My niece had a hole in both ear drums, probably due to her water sports, one healed up by itself, and the other one required surgery. If you don’t get the proper medical attention for this, you may not be able to hear as well as you should.

If you have Otitis media and your middle ear is very infected, this can be the cause of a hole in your eardrum because of the pressure. If this happens to you, it will probably bring relief from some of the pain, you might also notice some drainage from your ear. This is a good thing, and often this hole will heal up with no problem, but again, you should pay attention to how it is healing and get some antibiotics if you need them. If the infection does not go away, your ear drum will not heal, and this can become a chronic condition that goes on and on and on.

Children and Otitis Media

Children under the age of seven have Otitis media more often than older children and adults. This is because the Eustachian tube is shorter and is on a more horizontal angle, so it doesn’t drain as well. As well, they are more vulnerable just because they haven’t developed the same resistance to viruses and bacteria as adults. If you have a small child who is fussy and is rubbing or pulling at his ears, you might want to see your doctor.


You can get ear drops from the drug store to give some relief and to help your ear heal. You can also take a pain killer such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, (but aspirin should not be given to a child under 16 years old).

Many guidelines suggest waiting one to three days before starting antibiotics. This is because these infections often go away by themselves, and these days with the overuse of antibiotics and the “superbugs”, this is the wiser course to take. But the antibiotics are there if you do need them.

But - antibiotics do not work on viral infections, and it is hard to know, even for a doctor, whether you have an viral or bacterial infection. And there is the complication that a viral infection can progress to a bacterial infection. So maybe start off with a pain killer, lots of rest and good food, and give your body a chance to heal on its own.

Alternative Therapies

Does it surprise you to hear that chiropractic might help your ear aches? My chiropractor told me that, and since my grandson was getting ear aches fairly often, I brought him in to “see if it works”. He was a shy little boy who didn’t want to lie down on the table. She was good with him and adjusted him sitting up. She did find some problems with his neck, even at that young age, and we found an improvement with the earaches.

Bottom Line

Otitis Media, or a middle ear infection, often goes away by itself. However, you do need to watch and make sure that you get proper medical attention if it isn't healing and/or gets worse.

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