Ear infections can be a cause of ear pain. Otitis media is the term used for middle ear infection. Common in childhood, otitis media occurs infrequently in adults. Many children have recurrent ear infections that often occur after a cold or upper respiratory infection. Inflammation of the Eustachian tube prevents normal fluid drainage from the middle ear, which serves as a growth media for bacteria. Secondhand tobacco smoke may predispose a child to middle ear infections. Frequently eaten foods or allergies can alter the tissue resistance of the ear, setting up conditions for an infection. Milk is a prime suspect. Wheat, egg, peanut, soy, and corn can cause fluid behind the eardrum, which predisposes the child to ear infections.
Eustachian tube dysfunction plays a role in ear infections. The Eustachian tube drains both fluid and mucus from the middle ear into the nose. The Eustachian tube in children is short, straight, and may not drain well, resulting in mucus accumulation in the middle ear. If the mucus becomes thick and glue-like, the condition is known as glue ear. Fluid behind the eardrum without infection can be very painful, but the pain may come and go. Hearing loss, delayed development of speech and language skills, and problems with gross motor skills and balance may result.
Because typical symptoms overlap other conditions, a physician should be consulted, particularly in the case of recurrent ear infections.