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Dr Colin Brown - Ear, Nose & Throat Surgeon

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Otitis Media

This is inflammation or infection of your middle ear (the space behind your eardrum) and is often associated with a build-up of fluid in your middle ear.

Acute Otitis Media

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Acute otitis media is usually caused by a temporary malfunction of the Eustachian tube, usually following an acute viral upper respiratory tract infection (such as a cold or the 'Flu).  The Eustachian tube connects the middle ear to the nose and allows air to enter the middle ear, thus making middle ear pressure the same as air pressure outside the head.  Acute otitis media results in an infection in the middle ear causing pain, fever and a red, bulging eardrum (the thin, transparent membrane between the outer ear canal and the middle ear).  This condition is usually seen in young children, but can also be seen in adults.  The treatment may be pain relief and/or antibiotics. If there are repeated episodes, surgical insertion of grommets into the eardrums may be required.  Grommets are tiny ventilation tubes that allow normal airflow into the middle ear until the Eustachian tube begins to work normally.  The operation is done under general anaesthesia (your child is asleep) and takes 10-15 minutes. This procedure can be performed under local anaesthetic in adults.

Most grommets fall out naturally after six to eighteen months, by which time the Eustachian tubes are often working properly.

Otitis Media with Effusion (Glue Ear)

Like acute otitis media, glue ear is usually the result of a temporary malfunction of the Eustachian tube and may either follow an episode of acute otitis media or occur on its own. The condition is usually seen in children. Fluid is present in the middle ear and the ear is not usually painful, the ear drum is not red and bulging and there is no fever. Glue ear may lead to hearing loss, which can result in speech delays, and balance problems. Treatment usually involves a hearing test followed by observation for a period of weeks or months if the hearing is not affected too much. If the hearing is reduced on the hearing test, grommets are usually recommended.

Chronic Otitis Media

If the Eustachian tube is blocked repeatedly over a period of several years, there may be changes to the tissues of the middle ear such as deformity of the ear drum and damage to the bones of the ear. These changes may result in hearing problems, balance problems, and persistent discharge from the ear.  If such long term damage has occurred, an operation called a mastoidectomy may be required. This involves making an incision (cut) behind your ear, drilling through the mastoid bone and removing, and possibly repairing, damaged tissues.

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This page was last updated at 10:27AM on June 13, 2019.