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Alternative names

Ear infection; Infection - ear


Otitis is any of several disorders involving infection and/or inflammation of the internal or external ear.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Otitis can affect the internal ear (media) or the external ear (externa). Otitis is classified according to whether it occurs suddenly and for a short time (acute) or if it occurs repeatedly or persistently over a long period of time (chronic).

Specific types of ear infection include:
  • Otitis externa - acute
  • Otitis externa - chronic
  • Otitis externa - malignant
  • Otitis media - acute
  • Otitis media -chronic
  • Otitis media - with effusion


Any of the following symptoms may develop with otitis:
  • Earache
  • Itching or other discomfort in the ear or ear canal
  • Drainage from the ear
  • Hearing loss
  • Ear noise or buzzing
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Irritability
  • Malaise (feeling of general illness)
  • Nausea , vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Signs and tests

Physical examination of the ears, with or without an instrument (otoscope), may show signs of otitis. For example, symptoms of otitis externa that may be seen during an examination include a red, painful external ear, while otitis media symptoms include redness or swelling of the eardrum.


Treatment usually includes antibiotics or other antimicrobials, depending on the suspected cause of the infection.

Expectations (prognosis)

Most types of ear infection respond readily to treatment. If there is no improvement after three days, the antibiotic regimen may need to be altered.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you develop symptoms of otitis.

Update Date: 1/3/2003

Jonathan Fanaroff, M.D., Department of Pediatrics, Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT