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Types of Ear Infections

Learn About 6 Types of Ear Infections

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Updated April 28, 2014

Ear infections are common after having the common cold or the flu, especially in children. However, all ear infections are not created equal. If you or your child has ear pain, you should see a healthcare provider to determine the type of ear infection and the best course of treatment.

Otitis Media

The middle ear infection is the most common type of ear infection and usually occurs in babies and young children. It means that the middle ear is inflamed and contains fluid (usually pus), causing pain, redness of the eardrum and sometimes fever. Treatment depends on age and severity of the symptoms. Many ear infections of this type are viral and go away on their own without treatment.

Otitis Media with Effusion

This simply means there is fluid in the middle ear and swelling of the inner ear. The fluid typically is not bothersome and goes away on its own. If it doesn’t, it may need to be treated with antibiotics.

Chronic Otitis Media

This indicates that fluid is present in the middle ear for six or more weeks. If this fluid does not drain and repeatedly gets infected, ear tubes may be necessary to help with drainage.

Otitis Externa

This is an infection of the outer ear and ear canal. It is also known as an outer ear infection or swimmer's ear. It commonly occurs during the summer months when children swim frequently and their ears stay warm and moist. Typically, otitis externa is treated with ear drops and by keeping the ears dry.

Ruptured Eardrum

A ruptured eardrum is a tear or hole in the eardrum. It can be caused by prior infection, noise or injury. Typically, ruptured eardrums heal on their own in a few weeks but can cause problems with hearing.

Mastoiditis

This is a bacterial infection of the mastoid process, the bone behind the ear. It typically occurs when otitis media spreads into the surrounding bone because it is inadequately treated. This is a serious type of ear infection that must be treated with IV antibiotics. It can cause deafness, blood poisoning, meningitis, brain injury or death if it is not treated properly.

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Sources:

”Ear Infections: Otitis Media With Effusion.” Familydoctor.org Apr 08. American Academy of Family Physicians. 22 Jan 09.

”Middle Ear Infections.” KidsHealth June 08. Nemours Foundation. 22 Jan 09.

”Ear Infections: Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa).” Familydoctor.org May 08. American Academy of Family Physicians. 22 Jan 09.

”Mastoiditis.” The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library Feb 08. Merck & Co. 22 Jan 09.

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