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Otitis – causes, side effects and treatments at

Thursday, May 24, 2018 by

Otitis refers to the infection or inflammation of the ear.

Otitis has three subtypes:

  1. Otitis externa – Also called swimmer’s ear or inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal. Severe otitis externa can spread into the bones and ear cartilage. It is often caused by swimming in unclean water, scratching the ear, or getting something stuck in the ear.
  2. Otitis media – Otitis media affects the middle ear, which can be found behind the eardrum. It occurs when a child’s eustachian tube, which runs from the middle of the ear to the back of the throat, becomes swollen or blocked and traps fluid in the middle ear. The trapped fluid may become infected and cause otitis media.
  3. Otitis interna – Also called inflammation or infarction of the inner ear. It is commonly known as labyrinthitis.

Known side effects of otitis

The side effects of otitis externa usually include:

  • Drainage from the ear (Can appear as a yellow-green, pus-like, or foul-smelling liquid.)
  • Ear pain (May worsen when the outer ear is pulled)
  • Hearing loss
  • Itching of the ear or ear canal

Infants and children with otitis media may experience the following side effects:

  • Crying
  • Diarrhea
  • Ear pain
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • A fever
  • Fluid drainage from the ear
  • A headache
  • Hearing loss
  • Irritability
  • A lack of balance
  • Neck pain
  • Pulling on the ears
  • Sleeplessness
  • Vomiting

Risk factors for otitis media may include:

  • Attending daycare
  • Being between six to 36 months old
  • Being bottle fed instead of breastfed (infants)
  • Being exposed to cigarette smoke
  • Being exposed to high levels of air pollution
  • Being in a cold climate
  • Drinking while laying down (infants)
  • Experiencing changes in altitude or climate
  • Having had a recent cold, flu, sinus, or ear infection
  • Using a pacifier

Body systems harmed by otitis

Otitis externa may cause the following complications:

  • Abscesses
  • Cellulitis
  • Inflammation or perforation of the eardrum
  • Malignant otitis externa — A complication of otitis externa that has spread to the bone around the ear canal.
  • Narrowing of the ear canal

Food items or nutrients that may prevent otitis

The following foods or nutrients can help prevent otitis and hearing loss:

  • Alpha lipoic acid — Alpha lipoic acid is an enzyme facilitator and antioxidant that can protect hearing from free-radical damage. It can also aid nerve system function and generate mitochondria in the hair cells of the inner ear. Sources include broccoli, spinach, and sweet potatoes.
  • Folate — Folate can help minimize the risk or slow the development of age-related hearing loss. Sources include asparagus, avocado, beans, broccoli, lentils, spinach, and other leafy greens.
  • Potassium — Potassium can help prevent age-related and noise-related hearing loss. Sources include apricots, bananas, melons, oranges, and spinach.
  • Vitamin C and E — These two vitamins both function as antioxidants that protect cells from free radical damage. Sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, fresh herbs, guava, and strawberries. Vitamin E sources include almonds, leafy greens, mango, olive oil, and sunflower seeds.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids — Omega-3s are healthy fats found in beans, grains, oils, and seeds. Omega-3s can help minimize inflammation that may damage sensitive tissues. It also helps prevents age-related hearing loss.

Treatments, management plans for otitis

Treatment for otitis externa may include:

  • Corticosteroids — Helps reduce itching and inflammation.
  • Oral antibiotics — Prescribed for patients with a middle ear infection or infection that has spread beyond the ear
  • Pain medicine — May include acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • Vinegar (acetic acid) ear drops

Treatment for otitis media may include:

  • Home care — May include applying a warm, moist washcloth over the infected ear; over-the-counter (OTC) ear drops for pain relief; or taking OTC pain relievers.
  • Medication — Includes ear drops for pain relief and other pain relievers. Antibiotics may also be prescribed if the side effects don’t go away after several days of home treatment.
  • Surgery — Surgery may be required if the infection doesn’t respond to treatment or if the patient has recurrent ear infections. Surgery options include adenoid removal or the insertion of ear tubes.

Where to learn more


Otitis refers to the infection or inflammation of the ear.

The side effects of otitis externa usually include drainage from the ear, ear pain, hearing loss, and itching of the ear or ear canal.

Otitis externa may cause complications like abscesses, cellulitis, and inflammation or perforation of the eardrum.

Alpha lipoic acid, folate, potassium, vitamin C and E, and omega-3 fatty acids can help prevent otitis and hearing loss.

Treatment for otitis externa may include corticosteroids, oral antibiotics, pain medicine, or vinegar (acetic acid) ear drops.

Treatment for otitis media may include home care, medication, and surgery.

Sources include:


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