What is Otitis Media?

Page last updated: 05 November 2013

Otitis Media (also known as 'ear disease' and 'middle ear infection') is the medical term for all forms of inflammation and infection of the middle ear.

Middle ear infections are a significant problem for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Left untreated, ear infections can lead to hearing loss which may limit a child’s capacity to develop socially and emotionally. Ear infections can also adversely affect educational outcomes.


Causes of Otitis Media

A child’s ear is connected to the nose by a tube (called the Eustachian tube). If a child has a cold, it’s likely their ears will get sick too. When mucus from a cold blocks the ear, air can’t get in and fluid can’t drain out of the middle ear. Left untreated, this can lead to Otitis Media (OM).

Diagram of a young child showing that ears are connected to the nose by a tube.
Diagram of a young child showing that ears are connected to the nose by a tube. When this ear tube gets blocked, fluid can build up in the ear.

Types of Otitis Media

  • Acute Otitis Media - an infection in the middle ear caused by a bacterial or viral infection (eg a cold).
  • Otitis Media with effusion (also known as glue ear) - a persistent or recurring middle ear infection causing fluid accumulation in the middle ear.
  • Chronic Suppurative Otitis Media (also known as runny ear) – a serious and persistent infection in the middle ear, often accompanied by discharge from the ear.

Fast facts

  • Some studies suggest that up to 91% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in remote communities present with Otitis Media (OM).
  • If middle ear infections go untreated they can cause long-term hearing loss.
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