Your middle ear is a hollow space behind your eardrum. The middle ear contains 3 tiny bones that transmit your eardrum's vibrations to the nerves in your inner ear.
Different parts of your ear can get infected, but you're most likely to have an infection in your middle ear. "Media" means middle, and "otitis" means inflamed ear, so doctors call this infection otitis media. It's called acute otitis media when it happens quickly and gets better quickly. Doctors call it "chronic" when it lasts more than 3 months.
Having an acute ear infection that doesn't go away can turn into a chronic ear infection
Your ear doesn't hurt, but you have thick fluid or pus coming out of your ear
You have hearing loss, which can be permanent
Doctors clean your ear canal and give you antibiotic eardrops
Usually a chronic ear infection starts with an acute ear infection that:
Leaves a hole in your eardrum that never heals (eardrum perforation)
A chronic ear infection may flare up after:
Children who have birth defects of their face have an increased risk of chronic ear infections.
The most common symptoms are:
The hole in the eardrum may let in dangerous bacteria that cause a worse infection. That infection may destroy the tiny bones in your middle ear or spread to nearby skull bones.
Some people with chronic ear infections develop a cholesteatoma in the middle ear. A cholesteatoma is a growth that looks like skin and isn't cancerous. A cholesteatoma increases your risk of having serious complications, including:
When a chronic ear infection flares up, doctors will:
If you have a hole in your eardrum, they will tell you to keep water out of your ear.
Doctors may also recommend surgery if you have: