Otitis media with effusion (silent otitis media) is characterized by an accumulation of fluid that becomes trapped behind the eardrum. Adults and children can experience a loss of hearing and a sense of stuffiness in their ears. While not usually painful, silent otitis media can be uncomfortable; it sometimes feels like pressure on the ear drum and that it would feel better if the fluid would just drain out. This feeling may be why small babies and children pull at their ears.
Symptoms of an ear infection may include nasal congestion, severe coughing, repeated vomiting, a loss of appetite, an inability to sleep, a bad disposition and overall discomfort within the ear canal. Silent otitis media can be problematic for parents simply because babies cannot communicate their discomfort to the fullest extent.
Parents, who use daycare, should keep their babies home when they know their child has an ear infection, because microorganisms can be spread from one child to the next in a daycare setting. Most ear infections happen when bacteria invades the fluid inside the inner ear. The fluid in the inner ear stimulates nerve sensations and carries impulses to the brain that are perceived as sound.
What causes silent otitis media?
Fluid gets trapped behind the eardrum because the Eustachian tube becomes blocked or partially blocked. Some possible causes of silent otitis media are due to allergies. Different kinds of allergies can cause an inflammatory response within the nose and throat, which can ultimately affect the ears. The allergies could be to pollen, dust, mites, and even food. Food allergens, as well as others can cause such symptoms as nasal congestion, coughing, nausea and vomiting and loss of appetite. Allergies can also cause itching, and a feeling of water behind the ear canal, irritability and difficulty sleeping. In addition, ear infections can lead to problems such as imbalance and headaches.
Are there complications of silent otitis media?
A major complication of silent otitis media is decreased hearing, which is due to trapped fluid behind the eardrum. When there is an excessive amount of fluid trapped behind the eardrum, the eardrum cannot function to send vibrations to the structures of the inner ear.
If left untreated, a child could have delayed speech, due to not being able to hear speech to learn how to talk. Silent otitis media could also develop into a serious ear infection that could cause tympanosclerosis (scarring of the eardrum).
Another complication of silent otitis media is that a benign cyst or tumor (cholesteatoma) could develop in the middle ear. If a cyst or tumor develops and is left untreated, it could lead to deafness, vertigo and pain. Deadly complications, such as brain abscess and meningitis, could also develop if silent otitis media exacerbates into a much worsened condition
How is silent otitis media diagnosed and treated?
Physical examination of the ear – The doctor may find air bubbles behind the eardrum, which would indicate the presence of trapped air and fluid. The appearance of the eardrum may also appear stressed and dull in color, instead of pink.
Tympanometry – This is a test that evaluates the eardrum’s ability to conduct air vibrations to the bony structures in the inner ear. A tympanometry test can help to diagnose the presence and thickness of the fluid trapped behind the eardrum.
Treatment – Some doctors may treat silent otitis media with antibiotics, but all doctors are not convinced that antibiotics help the ear to recover any faster. Treatment is more involved with avoidance of things that seem to cause the condition.
Smokers should abstain from smoking while recovering from this condition, because the irritants in smoke can trigger otitis media and otitis media with effusion.
It also helps to avoid the allergens that can trigger the condition. Allergy medications may be able to help resolve the condition and prevent further occurrences of OME.
Babies should be breast or bottle fed while in an upright sitting position. Mothers may find the curved baby bottles to be more conducive to upright bottle feeding. Feeding while reclined can possibly cause fluid to enter one or both of the eustachian tubes.
Though silent otitis media is not usually painful, it is important to see your doctor if you notice hearing difficulty, dizziness and other symptoms. Parents should take their children to their pediatrician when they notice something isn’t quite right, so that the child can be evaluated.
Silent otitis media usually clears up in a few weeks. If the fluid is thick, it can be rather viscous, like glue. How quickly silent otitis media will resolve will depend on whether the fluid is thin or thick. An ear with thick fluid is more likely to take a little longer to recover. If the condition hasn’t cleared up in a few weeks, it would be best to let the doctor check further into the condition.