Often occurring in children, fluid in the ear is usually a result of an ear infection. Medically speaking, fluid in the ear is called otitis media with effusion. Otitis media is a fancy name for middle ear inflammation, and effusion means fluid. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 90 percent of children are at some point diagnosed with fluid in the ear before turning age 5.
Behind the eardrum sets the middle ear. When the middle ear is healthy, it is filled with air. However, the middle ear can become filled with fluid if mucous-like substances build up in it. Ear fluid can be caused by a past ear infection, a cold or flu or the clogging of the Eustachian tube, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Symptoms of fluid in the ear include a popping sensation, ringing or feeling of pressure inside the ear. Also, symptoms can include loss of hearing, constant ear infections and trouble with balance and dizziness. When children are affected with fluid in the ear, they can often appear distracted and grouchy. Babies will often tug at their ears. Symptoms that often come before fluid in the ear include coughing and a stuffy nose, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Family Physicians.
Two ways of diagnosing ear fluid include a physician examining ears with an otoscope and performing a tympanometry test. With an otoscope, a physician uses an instrument to exam the eardrum to see if fluid exists behind the eardrum. The tympanometry test measures ear pressure and gives a gauge of how well the eardrum moves. An eardrum with fluid will not move as well as a healthy eardrum.
When fluid gathers in the middle ear, hearing is often affected as the eardrum’s mobility is reduced and sounds cannot be gathered effectively. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that in certain cases children with ear fluid may be at risk for delays in speaking or may have problems at school. If your child has multiple occurrences of fluid in the ear, consult a physician.
Fluid in the ear can involve a variety of treatments. What works for one person may not be effective for someone else. Oftentimes, fluid will be monitored and will require no treatment as the fluid will go away on its own. Antibiotics can be used only if the fluid contains an infection. In extreme cases when the fluid does not disappear after months, a procedure where a tube is placed in the auditory tube allowing for the fluid to drain into the throat is performed.