Q&A: What Is Middle Ear Inflammation?

How does middle ear inflammation differ from an ear infection?
profile picture of Dr. Cheryl Wu
ByDr. Cheryl Wu
Mar 2017
Hero Image

Ever notice how adults rarely get ear infections, but kids seem to get one every other day? Well, that’s because kids have a horizontal middle ear canal (the area right behind the ear drum, connected to the inside of the mouth), so when fluid gets in there, it’s hard to drain out and it gets inflamed (_your _middle ear canal is more slanted). Don’t panic if baby is screaming, crying and red in the face — middle ear inflammation is painful, but _not _threatening.

Think of middle ear inflammation as similar to a stubbed toe — it’s swollen and painful, but it’s not an infection. The inflammation becomes an infection when fluid doesn’t drain out of the ear canal and bacteria starts to form (yuck!). To a pediatrician, this is the difference between seeing clear fluid behind the eardrum and fluid that’s thick and yellowish (double yuck!).

But as far as you’re concerned, check for changes in baby’s behavior to determine whether she has ear inflammation or an infection. If she has a cough or runny nose, but is still playing, eating, peeing and sleeping as normal, she probably just has inflammation, and it should go away on its own. But if she’s screaming, has a high fever and is having trouble sleeping, it’s most likely an infection, so you’ll want to schedule an appointment with your pediatrician. She’ll be able to give baby the proper antibiotics, and you’ll _both _feel better in no time.

Related Video

Itchy Skin in Babies

Wendy Sue Swanson, MD

How to Check for Lice

Kristina Cappetta

Where Do Birthmarks Come From?

Alanna Levine, MD

Lump in a Baby’s Abdomen

Wendy Sue Swanson, MD

Diaper Rash

Jennifer L.W. Fink
Registered Nurse

Genius New Postpartum Underwear Makes Recovery Way Easier

Ashley Edwards Walker
Contributing Writer

6 Ways to Keep Baby Healthy

Elena Donovan Mauer

A Reminder to Moms: Showering Is Not Selfish

Anisa Arsenault
Associate Editor

Two-Year Molars?

Hannah Chow-Johnson, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine and pediatrician at Loyola University Health System

Head Lice 101

Kristina Cappetta

How to Care for Baby's Umbilical Cord

Paula Prezioso, MD