Acute otitis media is a bacterial or viral infection of the middle ear that causes inflammation (redness and swelling) and a build-up of fluid behind the eardrum.
Anyone can develop a middle ear infection. It can often occur as a complication to the common cold. In most cases, the symptoms of a middle ear infection develop quickly and resolve in a few days on its own.
The middle ear (small space behind the eardrum) has three bones and is usually filled with air. It is connected to the back of the throat by the Eustachian tube.
During a cold, mucus can fill the space behind the eardrum and may become infected with bacteria or viruses. The Eustachian tube can become swollen and blocked which stops the mucous draining out, resulting in pressure on the eardrum, pain and a middle ear infection (otitis media).
The main symptoms are an earache and feeling unwell. Even though an earache is common, it does not always occur. A fever and dulled hearing are also common. Sometimes due to the pressure, the eardrum may perforate. This releases the fluid and can often improve the pain. The majority of perforations are small and will heal themselves within a few weeks once the infection settles.
Your immune system will clear up most middle ear infections within a few days without any treatment. If however, you are in a lot of pain or your symptoms are showing no sign of improvement after two or three days, then you may wish to 'Start an Earache Diagnosis' or see a GP.