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Pediatric Acute Otitis Media

Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team

Updated on

What is pediatric acute otitis media?

Acute otitis media is an infection of the middle ear. When children have this condition, it is known as pediatric (or childhood) otitis media.

This is a very common childhood condition, especially in children younger than 5 years of age. The middle ear is the part of the ear inside the ear drum, and helps conduct sound through the ear. An infection can be caused by viruses or bacteria. Typical signs may include pain of the ear, fever, hearing difficulty and difficulty sleeping. Infants may cry more than usual or pull on their ear. Treatment is pain relief and sometimes requires antibiotics. Most children do not develop any complications and recover well from a middle ear infection.


Acute otitis media is caused by viruses (colds, the flu, ect) or bacteria. This is why a middle ear infection might begin following an episode of a cold or the flu. Children who have parents who smoke may be more likely to suffer middle ear infections. Other conditions that cause swelling in the nose (such as allergies or swelling of the tonsils) may also make middle ear infections more likely, because this swelling blocks off a tube that runs between the nose and middle ear. Blockage of this tube can make it easier for viruses or bacteria to infect the middle ear. This tube is shorter in children, and tends to get blocked more readily than in adults.


Typical symptoms of this conditions are pain of the ear and difficulty hearing. Small children may tug on the affected ear, have difficulty sleeping and cry more than usual. Some children may also develop fever, headaches and loss of appetite. Severe cases may cause a burst ear drum and pus may run from the ear.


The diagnosis is usually made by a doctor based on the symptoms and physical examination. An otoscope may be used – a small tool used to look at the ear drum.


Pain relief may be achieved by warm compresses or pain medication (such as ibuprofen and paracetamol). Antibiotics are often not needed to treat middle ear infections, but may be needed for children with complicated ear infections or other medical issues. If a child repeatedly experiences middle ear infections, a doctor may recommend a procedure to drain fluid from the middle ear (a myringotomy).


Taking care to prevent the spread of colds or the flu in the home and community can help prevent some cases of otitis media. Children should not be exposed to second hand cigarette smoke. There are vaccinations against some viruses and bacteria that can cause acute otitis media. Keeping to the recommended vaccination schedule may help to prevent middle ear infections.

Other names for pediatric acute otitis media

  • Middle ear infection in children
  • Acute otitis media in children

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