Otitis media (ear infection) is a disorder involving inflammation and/or infection of the structures of the middle ear. It may occur when there is a collection of sterile fluid in the ear. This may be caused by overproduction of fluid by the structures in the middle ear. It may also be caused by blockage of the eustachian tube (the connection between the middle ear and the back of the nose/upper throat). The presence of excess fluid causes the ear to become irritated and inflamed. Symptoms are sudden earache, hearing loss, ringing in the ears, fever, trouble sleeping, loss of appetite and fussiness in children. The infection is most commonly acquired in children aged up to 6 years, and peaks around 2 years of age. Unless it is treated, however, the condition can persist well into early and middle adulthood.
Acute otitis media (acute ear infection) occurs when there is bacterial or viral infection of the fluid of the middle ear, which causes production of fluid or pus. This may be accompanied by bleeding in the middle ear. Pressure from fluids associated with ear infection may cause the eardrum to rupture. Conversely, a ruptured eardrum can result in ear infection by allowing bacteria or viruses direct entry to the middle ear. Ear infections are most common following respiratory infections, or if the sinuses or eustachian tube are blocked from allergies or enlarged adenoids.
Ear infections occur in approximately 3 out of every 100 people. They may affect anyone but are more common in children because their eustachian tubes are shorter, narrower, and more horizontal than in adults.
According to the 2004 World Health Organization (WHO) report, up to 1% of children are regularly affected by chronic otitis media in developed countries (such as the Denmark, Finland, UK and USA) and as high as 45% among less developed populations, such as the Inuits of Alaska and Australian aboriginals. Although generally not too serious in most countries, up to 164 million cases result in some form of hearing loss and roughly 30,000 end up in death worldwide.