What Is Otitis Media with
the Eustachian tube drains fluid from your ears to the back of your throat. If
it clogs, otitis media with effusion (OME) can occur.
If you have
OME, the middle part of your ear fills with fluid. It can increase the risk of
extremely common. According to the Agency of Healthcare Research and
90 percent of children will have OME at least once by the age of 10.
What Causes OME?
more likely to experience OME due to the shape of their ear tube. Their tubes
are shorter and have smaller openings. This increases the risk of clogging and
infection. In addition, children’s immune systems may not be well-developed.
This makes it harder for them to fight off ear infections that can lead to OME.
isn’t an ear infection, the two can be related. For example, an ear infection
can affect how well fluid flows through the middle ear. Even after the
infection is gone, fluid may remain.
a blocked tube and excess fluid can provide the ideal environment for bacteria
to grow. This can lead to an ear infection.
air irritants, and respiratory infections can all cause OME. Changes in air
pressure can close the Eustachian tube and affect fluid flow. These might be
due to flying in an airplane or even by drinking while lying down.
misconception is that water in the ear can cause OME. This is untrue.
What Are the Symptoms of
children with OME have symptoms. OME isn’t the result of an infection. Many
children with OME don’t act or feel sick.
often mild or minimal. They can vary based on the child’s age.
symptom of OME is hearing problems. In younger children, behavior changes can
be a sign of hearing problems. For example, children may turn the television up
louder than usual. They may also tug or pull on their ears.
children and adults who have OME often describe sound as muffled. They may have
the feeling that the ear is full of fluid.
How Is OME Diagnosed?
A doctor will
examine the ear using an otoscope. This magnifying glass has a lighted end for looking
inside the ear.
will be looking for:
bubbles on the eardrum’s surface
eardrum that appears dull instead of smooth and shiny
fluid behind the eardrum
eardrum that doesn’t move when a small amount of air is blown into it
sophisticated testing methods are available. One example is tympanometry. This
test inserts a probe into the ear. It determines how much fluid is behind the
eardrum and how thick it is.
otoscope can also detect fluid in the middle ear.
How Is OME Treated?
clears up on its own. However, chronic OME can increase your risk of ear
infections. Your doctor may recommend taking a low-dose antibiotic if you or
your child is prone to frequent ear infections.
If it feels
like there’s fluid still lurking behind your ear after roughly six weeks, you
may need to see your doctor again. You may need more direct treatment to drain
One form of
direct treatment is ear tubes. These help drain fluid from behind the ears.
adenoids can also help treat or prevent OME. When enlarged, adenoids can block
How Can I Prevent OME?
OME is most
likely to occur in the fall and winter months, according to the Children’s
Hospital of Pennsylvania (CHOP). Fortunately, there are things
you can do to reduce your risk of developing OME.
washing hands and toys
cigarette smoke and pollution, which can affect ear drainage
air filters to keep air as clean as possible
a smaller day care center, ideally with six children or fewer
which helps your child resist ear infections
drinking while lying down
antibiotics only when necessary
pneumonia and flu vaccines also may make you less vulnerable to OME. They can
prevent the ear infections that increase OME risk.
What Are the Complications
Associated with OME?
associated with permanent hearing damage, even when fluid builds up for some
time. However, if OME is associated with frequent ear infections, more
complications can occur.
in the middle ear
to the ear, causing hearing loss
speech or language delay
What Is the Long-Term
Outlook for OME?
closely with your doctor can help to minimize long-term symptoms. It’s
particularly important to pay attention to hearing problems in young children.
These can cause long-term language delays.
OME is very
common and most often doesn’t cause long-term damage. If your child develops
recurrent and frequent ear infections, consult with your doctor about ways to
prevent further infections or OME.