This topic covers
infections of the middle ear, commonly called
ear infections. For information on outer ear
infections, see the topic
Ear Canal Problems (Swimmer's Ear). For information on inner ear infections,
see the topic
middle ear is the small part of your ear behind your eardrum. It can get
infected when germs from the nose and throat are trapped there.
A small tube
connects your ear to your throat. These two tubes are called eustachian tubes (say "yoo-STAY-shee-un"). A cold can cause this tube to swell. When the
tube swells enough to become blocked, it can trap fluid inside your ear. This
makes it a perfect place for germs to grow and cause an infection.
Ear infections happen mostly to young children, because their tubes are
smaller and get blocked more easily.
The main symptom is an
earache. It can be mild, or it can hurt a lot. Babies and young children may be
fussy. They may pull at their ears and cry. They may have trouble sleeping.
They may also have a fever.
You may see thick, yellow fluid coming
from their ears. This happens when the infection has caused the eardrum to
burst and the fluid flows out. This isn't serious and usually makes the pain
go away. The eardrum usually heals on its own.
When fluid builds
up but doesn't get infected, children often say that their ears just feel
plugged. They may have trouble hearing, but their hearing usually returns to
normal after the fluid is gone. It may take weeks for the fluid to drain away.
doctor will talk to you about your child's symptoms. Then he or she will look
into your child's ears. A special tool with a light lets the doctor see the
eardrum and tell whether there is fluid behind it. This exam is rarely
uncomfortable. It bothers some children more than others.