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Ear conditions

Middle ear infection (otitis media)

Otitis media is inflammation and infection of the middle ear. The middle ear is the name for the air-filled space behind the ear drum. Anyone can get middle ear infections, but they are most common in young children.


The symptoms of a middle ear infection can include:

  • ear pain
  • a high temperature
  • ear discharge
  • itchiness in or around the ear.

Infection can lead to a build up of fluid in the middle ear, which makes the eardrum bulge outwards, causing earache.

The fluid behind the eardrum can also cause hearing loss.

In severe cases the eardrum can tear, letting out fluid into the outer ear canal.


Middle ear infections are caused by bacteria or viruses. Middle ear infections can happen after having a cold or the flu.


Most middle ear infections clear up within a few days to a week without the need for treatment. But get advice from your GP anyway, because, although rare, complications from an ear infection can be serious.

If there’s no improvement after several days, or if you’re very unwell, you may be prescribed antibiotics.

Find out more about ear infections on the NHS website, including advice on when you need to contact NHS 111 straight away.