What Is a Middle Ear Infection (Otitis Media)?

Otitis media, or middle ear infection, is a bacterial or viral infection in the space behind the eardrum. It’s a common childhood illness, but adults can get it too. Middle ear infections can be painful because of the buildup of fluid and pressure and inflammation in the middle ear.

Recurring acute otitis media is a middle ear infection that’s chronic (doesn’t go away or reoccurs frequently). Left untreated, it can lead to serious conditions, including:

  • Ruptured eardrum
  • Mastoiditis (infection of the mastoid bone in the inner ear)
  • Hearing loss
  • Speech and language difficulty
  • Facial paralysis
  • Tympanosclerosis (hardening of the ear lining)
  • Infection spreading to other parts of the head, including the brain