Otitis media in adults: Title: Managing “fluid in your ears”

Most people are aware that middle ear infections are very common in young children. Many pediatrician visits result in treatment for otitis media, which often presents as “glue ear”. This may be accompanied by pain, fever and reduced hearing. Children are known to be more prone to this condition due to their more horizontal Eustachian tubes and propensity for harvesting infections. Pain may increase until the eardrum ruptures from fluid pressure. Over 5 million cases of acute Otitis Media are reported annually in the US.

As adults you may suspect fluid in your ears as well. Patients often report their primary physician suspected “fluid”. Often the fluid trapped behind adults’ eardrums is painless. This may be the result of Eustachian tube dysfunction. The middle ear space cannot drain to the throat, often due to congestion in the tube itself. The eardrum is drawn backwards from negative pressure. Yellow watery fluid can originate in the tissues lining the middle ear cavity.

Symptoms seen in adults include drainage, ear pain, sudden decrease in hearing, or ear fullness sensations. Dizziness, balance difficulty and often fever may also be noted.

Adult risk factors include GE reflux, smoking, allergies, upper respiratory infections, immune system suppression, sinusitis, enlarged tonsils or adenoids, ruptured eardrum and family history.

If you suspect an infection or fluid in your ears, they should be examined medically.  An otoscopic or microscopic examination of the canals and eardrums, tympanograms and pure tone audiogram can verify or rule out fluid. A visit to an audiologist prior to a medical exam can aid the physician in the diagnosis. Medical or surgical management of the ear is best treated by an otolaryngologist.

Treatment options include antibiotics, analgesics, antipyretics, as well as supplements. Chronic Otitis Media may be treated by means of ventilation tubes for drainage and pressure equalization.

Do not wait if you or your physician suspect fluid in your middle ears. A diagnostic evaluation is the first step toward appropriate treatment and relief.