Ear Infection (Otitis Media)

Ear infection or otitis media means "inflammation of the middle ear."

Under normal circumstances, the middle ear is drained by a short, narrow tube (the Eustachian tube) into the back of the throat. A bacterial infection, virus, or allergy can trigger an ear infection by causing the Eustachian tube to swell and become blocked. The most common symptom of an ear infection are fever and ear pain, however, other symptoms may include:

  • Increased crying and a decrease in appetite
  • Irritability
  • Muffled hearing
  • Pulling at the ears

If you suspect that your child may have an ear infection, call 1-800-HENRYFORD for a same day appointment with a Henry Ford Pediatrician.

How do you know it’s an ear infection?

Your child’s pediatrician will examine their ears, nose, and throat using an instrument called an otoscope to look inside the ears. While looking in the ear the doctor will check for redness and fluid behind the eardrum, and to see if the eardrum moves in response to air pressure. The combination of redness, fluid and lack of appropriate movement indicates a middle ear infection.

Occasionally your doctor may perform one or two tests to better assess the ear. One of those tests is an audiogram, which is a hearing test. The second test, called a tympanogram, measures the movement of the eardrum in response to air pressure. This indicates how well the Eustachian tube is working.


Ear infections are not contagious, but are often associated with upper respiratory infections, such as colds. A child with an ear infection should probably stay at home until feeling better, which normally takes two to three days.


Treatment with antibiotics is necessary for middle ear infections, you should start your child on the antibiotics as soon as possible. Because of the danger of a recurrence, it is important that the child take the entire course of medication prescribed, even though fever and ear pain may disappear after a day or two. If ear pain and fever persist after three days of treatment, a different antibiotic may be needed.

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