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Ear infections

Related Terms

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Background

  • Otitis media refers to inflammation of the middle ear. When infection occurs, the condition is called acute otitis media, or ear infection. Acute otitis media occurs when a cold, allergy, or upper respiratory infection (including the nose, sinuses, larynx or voice box, and throat) and the presence of bacteria or viruses lead to the accumulation of pus, inflammation, and mucus behind the eardrum, blocking the eustachian tube (tube leading from the ear to the throat). Earache is painful due to swelling, but usually does not require treatment. More fluid may collect and push against the eardrum, causing pain and sometimes a temporary or, in severe cases, a permanent loss of hearing. Fever generally lasts about one to two days; pain and crying may last for three to four hours. After that, most children have some pain on and off for up to four days, although young children may have pain that comes and goes for up to nine days. Adults experience similar symptoms.
  • Next to the common cold, ear infections are the most commonly diagnosed childhood illness in the United States. More than three out of four children have had at least one ear infection by the time they reach three years of age. Adults can get the condition also, but it is much less common.
  • A child's eustachian tubes (tubes connecting the ears to the throat) are narrower and shorter than those of an adult. This makes it easier for fluid to get trapped in the middle ear when the eustachian tubes dysfunction or become blocked during a cold. This provides a perfect breeding ground for infection to develop.
  • Treating children with antibiotics may shorten these symptoms by about one day, according to a study of 240 children ages six months to two years. However, about 80% of the time the immune system can fend off infection and heal the ear infection without the use of antibiotics. In severe cases, too much fluid can increase pressure on the eardrum until it ruptures, allowing the fluid to drain. When this happens, fever and pain usually go away and the infection clears. The eardrum usually heals on its own, often in just a couple of weeks. However, if the eardrum does not heal, a doctor may touch the edges of the eardrum with epidermal growth factor to stimulate growth and then place a thin paper patch on the eardrum.

Types of Ear Infections

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Risk Factors

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Causes

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Signs and Symptoms

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Diagnosis

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Complications

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Treatment

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Integrative Therapies

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Prevention

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Author Information

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References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.