What is Otitis Media? Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Author thumbnail Kirsten Ellis  |  Published 09 August 2023  | Updated 16 May 2024  | 3 mins read

A man, appearing to be in pain, holding his ear with his hand.

What is Otitis Media?

Otitis Media is a middle ear infection that occurs when there is a build-up of fluids in the ear, occupying the air-filled space behind your eardrum. Children are the most susceptible to otitis media, with around 1 in 4 experiencing a middle ear infection before the age of ten [1], but it can occur at any age.

A young woman wearing a blanket on her back and blowing her nose.

What causes Otitis Media?

A majority of middle ear infections occur as a result of other viral or bacterial infections, such as the flu or the common cold. During these periods of sickness, our bodies create fluids called mucus which build up in our middle ear. Typically, this would drain by itself. However, when we are ill, the eustachian tube can become swollen and inflamed, meaning the fluid can’t escape and the infection remains within the middle ear.

What are the signs and symptoms of Otitis Media?

Symptoms of otitis media can vary from person to person, but they could include:  

  • Earache
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • A high temperature and fever
  • Temporary hearing loss
  • A fluid or discharge from the ear canal

Will a middle ear infection disappear by itself?

Most cases of otitis media usually clear up on their own over a 3 to 5 day period as the swelling in the eustachian tube calms down. This will allow the fluid to drain out, restoring the body’s natural drainage system. However, if the symptoms of your ear infection do not start to improve after a few days, we recommend seeking medical advice from a pharmacist or your GP.

A doctor talking with her patient.

How to treat Otitis Media? 

To help alleviate the symptoms of an ear infection, you can place a warm flannel on the affected ear. Painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can also be taken to help with pain; however, you should always follow the advice on the packet and speak to a pharmacist if you have any concerns.

Audiologists cannot prescribe any medication to treat otitis media; however, they can contact your GP for their support, and consider any onward referrals based on the severity and persistence of the infection. Without treatment, there is a risk of permanent hearing loss, so it’s always best advised to get your ears seen to if you notice your symptoms aren’t getting better.

Book a free hearing health assessment

If you are worried about your hearing as a result of otitis media, or perhaps you’d just like to learn more about it, why not book a free hearing test at The Hearing Care Partnership? Our expert audiologists are here and are ready to help you.

To book an appointment, call our Dedicated Patient Support team on 0800 52 00 546, visit your nearest practice or book online.