Symptoms of acute otitis media usually develop suddenly and can include:
- Pain or discomfort in the ear. However, it is difficult to determine if an infant or child who hasn't yet learned to speak has an ear infection. Some children may indicate pain if they have trouble swallowing food. Some parents believe that tugging on the ear indicates an infection, but this gesture is more likely to indicate pain from teething.
- Nasal congestion
- Loss of appetite
If the ear infection is severe, the tympanic membrane may rupture, causing the parent to notice pus draining from the ear. (This usually brings relief from pain.) Pus in the ear may cause hearing loss in some children.
Fevers and colds often make children irritable and fussy, so it is difficult to determine if acute otitis media is present as well. Symptoms are not apparent in about a third of children with acute middle ear infection.
Symptoms of Otitis Media with Effusion
OME may have no symptoms at all. Some hearing loss may occur, but it is often fluctuating and hard to detect, even by observant parents. The only sign to a parent that the condition exists may be when a child complains of "plugged up" hearing. Other symptoms can include loud talking, not responding to verbal commands, and turning up the television or radio.
Older children with OME may have difficulty targeting specific sounds in a noisy room. In such cases, some parents or teachers may attribute their behavior to lack of attention or even to an attention deficit disorder. Older children and adults may also notice a sense of fullness in the ear. OME is often diagnosed during a regular pediatric visit.
Review Date: 05/03/2011
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.