Otitis media with effusion (OME)

Fluid behind the eardrum in the middle ear

When fluid builds up behind the eardrum, it can be painful and uncomfortable. This condition, known as otitis media with effusion (OME), tends to affect small children more than adults, but may still affect anyone at any age.

What is otitis media with effusion?

Also known as serous otitis media or middle ear effusion, otitis media with effusion is a condition that develops when fluid builds up behind the eardrum. It isn’t an infection in itself, unlike some other forms of otitis media, but if fluid in the ear becomes trapped for an extended period of time, it can provide the right conditions for an infection to form.

Symptoms of otitis media with effusion

The symptoms of otitis media are quite similar to those caused by other ear conditions. It is always best to seek the opinion of a healthcare professional if you are concerned about your ear health. Common symptoms of otitis media with effusion include:

  • A feeling of fullness within the ear
  • Pain in one or both ears
  • Muffled hearing

Consequences of otitis media

For most people, a case of otitis media with effusion does not have any long-lasting effects and will clear up on its own.

In some cases, however, otitis media with effusion may lead to recurring ear infections if the fluid in the ear does end up becoming infected with bacteria. Repeated ear infections can lead to hearing loss, eardrum scarring, the development of cysts within the middle ear (cholesteatoma) and other complications.

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Common causes

Ordinarily, the eustachian tube helps fluid drain effectively out of the middle ear and down the back of the throat. When the eustachian tube becomes obstructed or is unable to work properly, fluid may begin to pool within the middle ear. This is the most common cause of otitis media with effusion.

The eustachian tube may become blocked or be unable to drain properly because of an existing physical abnormality or from swelling caused by a cold, allergies or an upper respiratory infection. Changes in air pressure, such as those experienced while flying, can also disrupt the flow of fluid through the eustachian tube.

Home remedies for serous otitis media

If you are experiencing discomfort from a buildup of fluid in your ear, there are a few home remedies that may be worth trying. Over-the-counter pain relief, such as ibuprofen, may help reduce the severity of any pain experienced, while a warm compress may also assist in soothing tender ears.

Although there are plenty of home remedies for serous otitis media listed on the internet, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional to ensure you only use substances that are safe for use in the ear. Inserting foreign objects and substances into the ear can cause more harm than good.

Treament for otitis media with effusion

In most cases, otitis media with effusion does not require treatment. The condition generally clears up on its own within a few weeks. 

If the fluid that has built up in the ear does not drain within a reasonable period of time, treatment for otitis media with effusion may be recommended by your healthcare professional. They may suggest having small tubes inserted into the ear. By helping to prevent a blockage from forming, the fluid in the ear can drain more efficiently thanks to the tubes.

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