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Acute Otitis Media: Overview and Risk Factors

Acute otitis media is an infection of the middle ear and Eustachian tubes. It can occur at any age, but primarily affects children between the ages of six months and two years. The condition is very common: Thirty percent of all antibiotics given to children are prescribed for otitis media, and the incidence has been rising over the last 25 to 30 years.

The most common cause is an upper respiratory infection. As the Eustachian tubes of the middle ear become congested and obstructed, infection begins. Another cause is allergies, which can cause dysfunction of the Eustachian tubes.

The most common symptoms are fever, ear pain, ear discharge (called otorrhea), dizziness, and temporary hearing loss. Young children may become irritable, lethargic, or quiet. They may have a fever, decreased appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea.

In rare cases, the infection can spread from the inner ear to other areas, including the brain. Therefore, it is important to diagnose otitis media appropriately and treat it promptly.

Risk Factors

  • Lack of breast–feeding: Breast–feeding for at least three months appears to lower the risk of otitis media.
  • Male gender
  • Age: Children younger than 10 years, and especially between the ages of six months and two years, are most commonly affected.
  • Use of pacifiers and bottle–feeding
  • Day care attendance
  • Exposure to tobacco smoke and air pollution
  • Hereditary factors
  • Fall and winter months
Acute Otitis Media: Diagnosis and Treatment >>