Otitis Media (Middle Ear Infection) in Adults

What is otitis media (ear infection)?

Otitis media is infection or inflammation in the middle ear. Most kids have at least one ear infection by the time they are 3 years old. But, adults can also get ear infections.

What causes ear infections?

Inflammation in the middle ear most often starts after you’ve had a sore throat, cold, or other upper respiratory problem. The infection spreads to the middle ear and causes fluid buildup behind the eardrum. 

What are the symptoms of ear infection?

These are the most common symptoms of ear infections in adults:

  • Ear pain
  • Feeling of fullness in the hear
  • Fluid draining from the ear(s)
  • Fever
  • Hearing loss

These symptoms may look like other conditions or health problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is ear infection diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will review your health history and do a physical exam. He or she will check the outer ear(s) and the eardrum(s) using an otoscope. The otoscope is a lighted tool that lets the healthcare provider see inside the ear. A pneumatic otoscope blows a puff of air into the ear to test eardrum movement. When there is fluid or infection in the middle ear, movement is decreased.

Your provider may also do a tympanometry. This is a test that directs air and sound to the middle ear.

If you have ear infections often, your healthcare provider may suggest having a hearing test.