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Types of Ear Infections

Pediatric Ear

By David Sjulin, M.D.
Boys Town Ear, Nose & Throat Institute

Ear infections are one of the most common reasons that parents take their kids to see a doctor. An ear infection is an inflammation of the middle ear, which can be from a virus or bacteria causing fluid buildup behind the eardrum. Anyone at any age can get an ear infection, but they are most often seen in children because a child's immune system is not as effective as an adult's.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, there are three types of ear infections. Each infection has a different combination of symptoms.

Acute Otitis Media

Acute otitis media (AOM) is the most common type of ear infection. Parts of the middle ear are infected and swollen, and fluid is trapped behind the eardrum. This causes pain in the ear—commonly called an earache. Your child might also have a fever.

Otitis Media with Effusion

Otitis media with effusion (OME) sometimes happens after an ear infection has run its course and fluid stays trapped behind the eardrum. A child with OME may have no symptoms, but a doctor will be able to see the fluid behind the eardrum with a special instrument.

Chronic Otitis Media with Effusion

Chronic otitis media with effusion (COME) happens when fluid remains in the middle ear for a long time or returns repeatedly. COME makes it harder for children to fight new infections and can affect their hearing.

Some Things to Remember About Ear Infections…

  • If you think your child has an ear infection, take him/her to your family doctor.
  • Ear infections are often painful, and it is important to keep your sick child comfortable. You can alternate ibuprofen with tylenol every 4 hours to alleviate your child's pain. Your doctor or pharmacist can advise you on the right dose of pain relief medication for your child.
  • Most children outgrow ear infections and have undamaged ears and normal hearing.