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What is Acute Otitis Media & How is it Treated | Causes, Symptoms, Prognosis of Acute Otitis Media

A cluster of inflammatory diseases related to the human middle ear is known as otitis media. Otitis media is divided into two types, acute otitis media or AOM and otitis media with effusion or OME.

Acute otitis media (AOM) is a common type of ear infection that mostly occurs in children where the middle ear becomes infected and subsequently inflamed. The scientific explanation for this is that, the problem begins when the Eustachian tube which is an elongation that runs from the ear to the throat, becomes blocked. As a result of the blockage, fluid may be trapped. This fluid then becomes infected causing the swelling. Acute otitis media is more common in children than in adults because the Eustachian tube is shorter in children than in adults.

What is Acute Otitis Media?

Causes of Acute Otitis Media

There are a number of reasons that may result in the Eustachian tube in your ear getting infected and causing acute otitis media. These reasons include:

  • Common cold can be cause for acute otitis media. A severe common cold may cause one to excessively blow resulting in blockages and ultimately, acute otitis media.
  • Cigarette smoke may cause acute otitis media. Cigarette smoke is one of the main factors that have been attributed to acute otitis media. Passive smoking especially for kids is a huge risk factor and should be avoided at all costs.
  • Sinus infections will cause acute otitis media. This is because sinus infections cause inflammations which may then cause AOM.
  • Another cause could be drinking fluids in an un-natural position. This is another cause, especially for infants. Liquids may be trapped in the Eustachian tube leading to infections. There is also the real risk of chocking.
  • Allergies are also another cause of acute otitis media. With allergies, comes sneezing, and with excessive sneezing there is a real risk of acquiring acute otitis media.

Symptoms of Acute Otitis Media

To ascertain if you or your infant is infected, here are some of the red flags to watch out for:

  • Neck pain is a symptom of acute otitis media. If you start experiencing neck pains that keep recurring, it would be wise to get yourself checked for acute otitis media.
  • Other important symptoms include fevers, vomiting, lack of balance, irritability, ear pain, hearing loss, headaches, lack of sleep, crying, ear pulling, diarrhea and fluids coming out of the ear.

Tests to Diagnose Acute Otitis Media

Once you, or your infant child have one or more of the symptoms of listed above, it would be wise to get medical aid. When you reach the hospital, expect the following tests:

  • An examination of the ear to detect pus, redness, swelling, blood, fluid, perforated eardrum, and air bubbles.
  • Tympanometry test for diagnosing acute otitis media. This is an air pressure test in the ear to determine if the ear drum is ruptured.
  • Another test is reflectometry. A small instrument is used to make sounds near the ear. If the sound is reflected back, the physician will know that there is fluid in the ear.
  • A simple hearing test will determine if there is any hearing loss as a result of an infection.

Treatment for Acute Otitis Media

Treatment for Acute Otitis Media

Most acute otitis media treatments are not expensive or complicated. The good thing also is that most of the times, acute otitis media will heal without even the use of anti-biotic treatment. Anti-biotic treatment is discouraged because of overindulgence and resistance development by viruses and pathogens.

The two most common treatments for acute otitis media are medications and surgery.

  1. Medication for Treating Acute Otitis Media

    Medication for acute otitis media basically involves use of pain relievers so as to allow the natural healing process to occur. However, if symptoms do not go away or if the infection worsens, Anti-biotics will be prescribed.

  2. Surgery for Acute Otitis Media

    Another option to effectively combat with acute otitis media is surgery. However, this should only be an option if all other methods do not work; medication does not work, or if there is recurrent infections. Surgery usually entails the removal of the Adenoids which may be enlarged. Also, surgery makes for a procedure where tubes are inserted into the ear to drain the fluids.

Home Remedies for Acute Otitis Media

The best way to treat acute otitis media is by use of natural home remedies. These remedies include:

  • Dip a towel into warm water and dub gently on the affected ear. Repeat the process a few more times for relief from acute otitis media.
  • A few drops of breast milk into the ear will do wonders to your infant. Not only is it a pain reliever, it is a natural and harmless home remedy for acute otitis media.
  • Garlic is also a remedy. You can use this remedy by boiling just a clove of garlic in half a cup of water. Afterwards, wrap the clove with cotton wool and attach it to the ear with First aid tape.
  • Make strong Mullein tea. Then mix one tablespoon of it with one tablespoon of Olive oil and allow the mixture to sit overnight. One drop of the mixture is enough to bring healing to an infected ear and it is a great home remedy.
  • Lavender oil is also a good home remedy. Boil some water in a glass bowl and add some Lavender oil. Mix thoroughly and cover your head with a towel. Breathe in and ensure the steam reaches your nasal cavities. Repeat the breaths a few more times. This should ease the pain and start the healing process of acute otitis media.

Recovery Period/ Healing Time for Acute Otitis Media

With homemade natural remedies recovery will take from between 48 to 72 hours. One will usually make a full recovery within this period. The same healing time will apply if any of the surgical procedures was used on the patient. Recovery time when antibiotics are used will vary, but will not go beyond 48 hours. However, where there was fluid accumulation, expect total drainage within three months.

Prevention of Acute Otitis Media

While it can be really traumatizing to treat acute otitis media especially when complications occur, there are a few simple ways to prevent acute otitis media. These prevention mechanisms will ensure you reduce the risk factor in your home.

  • Avoid cigarette smoking, especially around kids to prevent acute otitis media.
  • Ensure the kids have had their flu and pneumococcal shots.
  • Do not give your children pacifiers.
  • Breastfeed instead of bottle feeding to prevent acute otitis media.
  • Ensure there is a culture of hand washing in your household to reduce any chances of catching colds.

Risk Factors for Acute Otitis Media

Anyone can get acute otitis media but it is more common in some people than in others. Some people, especially infants, are more susceptible to these infections due to the following reasons:

  • Cold weather is a risk factor for acute otitis media. If you live in a cold climate, you are more likely to be infected because of frequent colds and respiratory diseases.
  • Frequent exposure to cigarette smoke is another factor of risk. As previously stated, this is a huge risk factor especially to minors.
  • Another way to get acute otitis media is by having a history of ear infections. If you had had any kind of ear infections in the past, you will be more likely to acquire acute otitis media than someone who has never had any ear infections.
  • Pacifier use has been known to greatly contribute to acute otitis media. This is because the infant will greatly increase the risk of blockages around the ear.
  • Being exposed to pollution will increase the risk of ear infections. This is because harmful substances in polluted air will easily cause numerous types of infections.
  • Bottle feeding instead of breast feeding has also been attributed to acquiring of acute otitis media. This is because with bottle-feeding, there is always the risk of chocking which may lead to fluids passing through the Eustachian tube, and infections.

Complications in Acute Otitis Media

Though rare, complications might occur even after treatment. These complications of acute otitis media include mastoid space infection or Mastoiditis and Intracranial infections like brain abscesses, hearing loss, sinus thrombosis and bacterial meningitis.

Prognosis/Outlook for Acute Otitis Media

The prognosis is good for acute otitis media if the complications listed above do not occur. Expect full recovery within a few days. There is definitely no reason to be concerned unless the complications listed above occur. Also, as previously stated if there was fluid accumulation, expect total drainage within three months.

Lifestyle Changes for Acute Otitis Media

There are also some critical life changes that you will have to adapt to ensure there is no recurrence or occurrence of acute otitis media. Always ensure your house is hygienically clean all the time. Make sure there is no dust and clatter all over as it is a good lifestyle change. This will go a long way in ensuring there are no allergies or colds in the house. Also, make sure you Never smoke in the house as passive smoke is one of the greatest risk factors. Also, make sure everyone in the house always have their flu shots to prevent diseases. Finally, make sure you always have regular contact with your physician about prevention, treatment and diagnosis of acute otitis media.

Coping with Acute Otitis Media

With the above mentioned treatments and remedies acute otitis media should not be un-manageable. Since the infection will disappear within a few days except in the rare cases where complications occur, just sit tight and wait for the infection to go away on its own. You can also decide to go the option of surgery if the infection keeps re-occurring. If complications come about, always seek professional medical advice for proper coping.


  1. “Acute Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infection) in Adults” – Mayo Clinic Source: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/acute-otitis-media-in-adults/symptoms-causes/syc-20351762
  2. “Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infection)” – Cleveland Clinic Source: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/14426-otitis-media-middle-ear-infection
  3. “Otitis Media: What Is It?” – WebMD Source: https://www.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/ear-infection/otitis-media-what-is-it
  4. “Acute Otitis Media” – American Academy of Pediatrics Source: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/ear-nose-throat/Pages/Acute-Otitis-Media.aspx
  5. “Ear Infections in Children” – National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) Source: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/ear-infections-children
  6. “Otitis Media: Treatment and Medications” – Healthline Source: https://www.healthline.com/health/otitis-media/treatment
  7. “Acute Otitis Media: A Practical Guide to Recent Guidelines” – American Family Physician Source: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2020/1201/p661.html
  8. “Otitis Media with Effusion (OME) in Children” – KidsHealth Source: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/otitis-media.html

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 9, 2023

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