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Did You Know? Different Types of Ear Infections

By DuPage Medical Group Otolaryngology

Did you know that there are different types of ear infections? Each have their own symptoms and treatments. Take a look below to explore the inner ear.

Acute Otitis Media

Acute Otitis Media (AOM) is what is commonly called an ear infection.  It is the collection of fluid behind the eardrum that has become infected by bacteria. Common symptoms include: pain, fever, fussiness, and hearing loss.  Severe infections can cause rupture of the eardrum resulting in drainage from the ear canal. Infections often respond well to oral antibiotics.  Patients who have had multiple episodes of AOM are often candidates for ear tube placement.  This procedure drastically reduces the severity and frequency of infections.  Infections can still occur after placement of ear tubes, but are much less painful, and can be easily treated with placement of antibiotic eardrops directly into the ear canal.

Serous Otitis Media

Serous Otitis Media (SOM) is more commonly known as “ear fluid.”  This condition is often a result of AOM.  After an infection is treated, non-infected fluid can persist behind the eardrum.  Often, there is hearing loss as a result of the fluid. Patients may feel a pressure in the ear, but usually no pain.  Fluid that persists for longer than 3 months is often treated with placement of ear tubes.  It is important to identify this condition in children as hearing loss can sometimes result in speech delay.

Chronic Otitis Media

Chronic Otitis Media is a condition that more commonly affects adults.  It is the result of a persistent low-grade infection behind the eardrum as well as the bone behind the ear known as the mastoid.  This condition can present as chronic drainage from the ear or as a hole in the eardrum with frequent episodes of drainage.  This condition is often the result of poor Eustachian tube function. Temporary treatment often involves oral antibiotics or topical antibiotics in the form of eardrops; however, definitive treatment often involves surgery to remove the infection and repair the eardrum known as tympanomastoidectomy.

Eustachian Tube Dysfunction (ETD)

The Eustachian Tube is a structure that connects the small space behind our eardrum (called the middle ear space) to the back of our nose.  Negative pressure, or a vacuum, is constantly forming in the middle ear space.  Every time we chew, move our jaw, or swallow, the Eustachian tube should open allowing air to enter the middle ear space and equalize this pressure.  If this tube does not function properly, pressure, and sometimes fluid, can build behind the eardrum.  This can result in ear pain, pressure, fullness, or even infection.  Infants and children are more prone to ear fluid and infections, because the Eustachian tube does not properly develop until after age 4.  In adults, ETD may be a result of improper development, or from an upper respiratory tract infection.  Non-surgical treatment for ETD often involves the use of a prescription nasal spray and the daily use of a technique known as valsalva.


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Otolaryngology (ENT)
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