Middle ear infections, also known as otitis media, develop most often after an infection of the throat or the upper respiratory tract. The middle ear is the space behind the eardrum and is connected to the throat through the eustachian tube. Inflammation or infection in the upper respiratory tract can spread to the eustachian tube, causing it to swell. This leads to blockage and trapping of fluid in the middle ear, which can serve as a medium for bacterial or viral infection.
Middle ear infections are more common in children under 7 years. This is because the eustachian tube is short, soft, and almost horizontal in young children. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, AHRQ, middle ear infections affect nearly 12 percent of children under 18 years 1. The following are the most common symptoms of middle ear infections.
Symptom #1: Dulled Hearing
Dulled hearing is one of the most common middle ear infection symptoms. This dull feeling occurs when the inner ear is full of fluid – the pressure from the fluid on the eardrum interferes with its free vibration. This means that the sound reaching the eardrum is subdued and the signal reaching the brain is similarly dulled.
You can try to reduce the pressure in the middle ear with steam. To do this, put boiling water into a large basin; using a large towel, cover your head and lean over the basin so that you can inhale the steam. Make sure that your face is not too close to the hot water to avoid steam burns. Inhale the steam for about 15 minutes. Repeat several times per day as necessary.