Most people are aware that middle ear infections are very common in young children. Many pediatrician visits result in treatment for otitis media, which, in children, often presents as “glue ear” and 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 in general. Pain may increase until the eardrum ruptures from fluid pressure. Over 5 million cases of acute Otitis Media are reported annually in the US.
Adults can find themselves with middle ear fluid as well. Patients often report their primary physician suspected “fluid in the ears”. Often the fluid trapped behind adults’ eardrums is serous and is typically painless. This may be the result of Eustachian tube dysfunction, in which the middle ear space cannot drain to the throat adequately, often due to congestion in the tube itself. The tympanic membrane (eardrum) is drawn backwards from negative pressure, and yellow watery fluid may be present, having been drawn from the tissues lining the middle ear cavity.
Symptoms most seen in adults include drainage, ear pain, recent decrease in hearing, ear fullness sensations, recent dizziness or balance difficulty, fever (if there is an infection).
Adult risk factors for this condition include GE reflux, smoking, allergies, upper respiratory infections, immune system suppression (as with diabetes, chemotherapy, HIV/AIDS), sinusitis, enlarged tonsils/adenoids, ruptured eardrum and family history.
If you suspect fluid and/or an infection in your ear(s), they should be examined medically. Ideally an otoscopic/microscopic examination of the canals and eardrums, tympanograms and pure tone audiogram (hearing test) can verify or rule out fluid, therefore 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 otologist or otolaryngologist, or “Ear, Nose and Throat” physician.
Treatment options include antibiotics, analgesics, antipyretics, as well as supplements such as Vitamin C, Zinc and Echinacea. Chronic, recurrent Otitis Media may be treated by insertion of ventilation tubes (through the tympanic membrane) for drainage and pressure equalization.
Do not wait if you or your physician suspect fluid in your middle ears. A thorough diagnostic ear exam is the first step toward appropriate treatment and relief.
Ron D’Angelo, AuD