Acute otitis media (AOM) is a common ear infection that occurs when the middle ear becomes inflamed and filled with fluid. The middle ear is the space behind the eardrum that contains small bones that transmit sound waves to the inner ear. AOM is typically caused by bacterial or viral infection and is most common in young children, although it can occur at any age.
Symptoms of AOM may include ear pain, fever, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and hearing loss. In young children, symptoms may be more difficult to detect, and may include pulling at the ears, excessive crying, and difficulty feeding. In severe cases, AOM can lead to complications such as ruptured eardrums, hearing loss, and infection spread to nearby structures such as the brain.
Diagnosis of AOM is typically made by a healthcare professional based on symptoms and physical examination of the ear. Treatment may involve pain relief medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and antibiotics if the infection is bacterial. In some cases, a small tube may be inserted through the eardrum to help drain fluid from the middle ear.
Prevention of AOM can be achieved through good hygiene practices, such as washing hands frequently and avoiding exposure to people with colds or other upper respiratory infections. Vaccines for certain bacterial causes of AOM, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, are also available and can be recommended by healthcare professionals for high-risk individuals such as young children and those with weakened immune systems.