6 Common Types of Ear Infections

Earaches From Otitis Media, Otitis Externa, Mastoiditis, and More

Ear infections are common after having a cold or the flu, especially in children. However, all ear infections are not created equal. If you or your child has ear pain, see a healthcare provider to determine the type of ear infection and the best course of treatment.

Otitis Media

Child getting an ear exm
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Otitis media is the medical term for a middle-ear infection. It is the most common type of ear infection and usually occurs in babies and young children. It means that the middle ear is inflamed and contains fluid (usually pus), causing pain, redness of the eardrum, and sometimes difficulty hearing and fever.

The fluid may drain from the ear, so look out for that. A baby or young child who has a middle-ear infection may tug on the ear, cry or fuss more than usual, lose his appetite, and have trouble sleeping.

Treatment depends on the person's age and the severity of the symptoms. Many ear infections of this type are viral and go away on their own without treatment.

Otitis Media With Effusion

Otitis media with effusion (OME) means that there is fluid in the middle ear and swelling in the inner ear. It can also be called serous or secretory otitis media (SOM). This can happen if you come down with a cold, an upper respiratory infection, or a sore throat.

Typically, the fluid is not bothersome and goes away on its own within four to six weeks. If it doesn’t, it may need to be treated with antibiotics.

It tends to occur more often in kids between the ages of 6 months and 3 years old. More boys are affected than girls and the medical condition happens most during the fall and winter months.

Chronic Otitis Media

Chronic otitis media (COM) indicates that fluid is present in the middle ear for six or more weeks. If this fluid does not drain and repeatedly gets infected, ear tubes may be necessary to help with drainage.

It's a condition that generally occurs over many years among people who have frequent ear trouble. Symptoms may include hearing loss, chronic ear drainage, balance issues, facial weakness, deep ear pain, headache, fever, confusion, fatigue, and drainage or swelling behind the ear.

Otitis Externa

Otitis externa is an infection of the outer ear and ear canal. It is also known as an outer-ear infection or swimmer's ear.

It commonly occurs during the summer months when children swim frequently and their ears stay warm and moist. It can happen while you have a middle-ear infection or cold. Other causes include swimming in water that contains bacteria, scratching inside the ear, or getting something stuck in the ear.

The usual signs that you may have swimmer's ear are itchiness in the ear, hearing loss, ear pain, and having yellow or yellow-green, smelly pus drain from the ear. Typically, otitis externa is treated with antibiotic ear drops for 10 to 14 days and by keeping the ears dry.

Ruptured Eardrum

A ruptured eardrum is a tear or hole in the eardrum. It can be caused by prior infection, a noise, or an injury. Typically, ruptured eardrums heal on their own in a few weeks, but they can cause problems with hearing.


Mastoiditis is a bacterial infection of the mastoid process, the bone behind the ear. It typically occurs when otitis media spreads into the surrounding bone because it is inadequately treated.

This is a serious type of ear infection that must be treated with intravenous antibiotics. It can cause deafness, blood poisoning, meningitis, brain injury, or death if it is not treated properly.


Ear Infections. University of Maryland Medical Center. https://www.umm.edu/programs/hearing/services/ear-infections.

Ear Infection (Middle Ear). Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ear-infections/symptoms-causes/syc-20351616.

Mastoiditis. The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. http://www.merckmanuals.com/en-ca/home/ear,-nose,-and-throat-disorders/middle-ear-disorders/mastoiditis.

Otitis Media with Effusion (OME). Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. http://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/otitis-media-effusion-ome.

Swimmer's Ear. National Institutes of Health. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000622.htm.