Ear infections can involve the outer, middle, or inner ear. Outer ear infections are called otitis externa. This is sometimes referred to as swimmer's ear, because it can occur after getting moisture in the ear canal. The typical ear infection seen in children and some adults is a middle ear infection. This is referred to as acute otitis media.
Acute otitis media is characterized by ear pain, fever, muffled hearing, and sometimes ear drainage. The drainage from the ear can be pus or sometimes bloody discharge. Often, acute otitis media occurs along with or just after an upper respiratory infection (common cold). Although most ear infections are routine, some can become severe and lead to complications. For this reason, ear infections should be evaluated either by your physician or by an Otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist).
Oral antibiotics have been shown to decrease the duration of symptoms, and are the primary treatment for acute otitis media. After the ear infection is treated, fluid will sometimes remain in the middle ear space for weeks to months. This is no longer an infection, but it can continue to cause muffled hearing. This is a concern for young children who are learning to speak.
When middle ear infections become a recurrent problem, or fluid remains in the middle ear for several months, pressure equalization tubes (PE tubes) may be recommended. While PE tubes are in place, they will eliminate the middle ear fluid and likely decrease the number of middle ear infections. Ask your physician if PE tubes are appropriate for you or your child.