Health Guide

Otitis media in adults

What is it?

Otitis (o-TI-tis) media is an infection (in-FECK-shun) of the middle ear (the space behind the eardrum). This infection is very common in young children, but people of any age can get it. You should feel better two to three days after starting your medicine. If the ear infection is not treated, your eardrum may burst or the infection may spread. Frequent ear infections can cause life-long hearing problems. If your ear infection is being treated with antibiotics, always take them exactly as directed by your caregiver.


  • You may get an ear infection when your eustachian (u-STAY-shun) tubes become swollen or blocked. Eustachian tubes are tiny tubes that connect the middle ear to the back of the nose and throat. Eustachian tubes drain fluid away from the middle ear. They keep fresh air flowing in and out of the ears and control air pressure in the middle ear. Fresh air and the right pressure are needed so that you can hear properly.
  • When eustachian tubes become blocked, usually because of a cold or allergy, fluid cannot drain from the ear. Fluid that is trapped behind the eardrum is a perfect place for germs called bacteria (bak-TEER-e-uh) to grow. As the trapped fluid builds up, it puts increased pressure against the eardrum. If too much pressure builds up, the eardrum may burst. This is usually not a serious problem, because with time, the eardrum repairs itself.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Ear pain.
  • Fever.
  • Trouble hearing.
  • Your ear may feel plugged or full. You may have ringing or buzzing in your ear.
  • Headache.
  • Dizziness or loss of balance.
  • Nausea (upset stomach) or vomiting (throwing up).
  • You may also have fluid leaking from your ear if the eardrum has burst.

Wellness Recommendations:

Some vitamins help the body fight infection. Make sure you eat a healthy and balanced diet to include vitamins A, C, and E, and zinc. A daily multivitamin is good if you do not eat a healthy diet.

Medical Care:

You may need antibiotic medicine to treat the ear infection. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen may help fever, ear pain, and achiness. Ear drops may also help your ear pain.

Dietary Measures:

  • Decrease the sugar in your diet. Your ability to fight an infection may improve if you eat less sugar.
  • You may have a food allergy that is causing ear infections. Keep a food diary to learn if a food triggers an infection, such as after eating sugar, dairy products, eggs, corn, soy, tomato, or peanuts.

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.


  • Echinacea (Echinacea purpura) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have otitis media.
  • Garlic (Allium sativum) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have otitis media.
  • Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have otitis media.
  • St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been used for many years, but has not been studied in people who have otitis media.


  • Vitamin C has been used, but has not been studied in people who have otitis media.
  • Zinc has been used, but has not been studied in people who have otitis media.

Other ways of treating your symptoms:

Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

Talk to your caregiver if:

  • You would like medicine to treat otitis media.
  • Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
  • You have questions about what you have read in this document.


  • You have a seizure (convulsion), twitching of the facial muscles, or you pass out.
  • You are dizzy, have a stiff neck, or cannot walk normally.

Care Agreement:

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss the treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care will be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


1. Chew BP: Antioxidant vitamins affect food animal immunity and health. J Nutr 1995; 125(6 suppl):1804S-1808S.

2. Nicol M: Vitamins and immunity. Allerg Immunol 1993; 25(2):70-73.

3. Prasad AS: Zinc and immunity. Mol Cell Biochem 1998; 188(1-2):63-69.

Last Updated: 7/4/2018
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