Middle ear fluid in young children


In a healthy ear, sound waves travel through the ear canal and make the eardrum move back and forth. This makes the three bones in the middle ear move. The movement of these bones sends sound waves across the middle ear to the inner ear. The inner ear sends the sound messages to the brain. But if the middle ear has fluid in it, then the eardrum and the bones cannot move well. This could cause your child to have trouble hearing.

What is Middle Ear Fluid?

If your child has middle car fluid, it means that a watery or mucous-like fluid has collected behind the eardrum. Many children get middle ear fluid during their early years. But middle ear fluid is not the same as an ear infection.

  • An Ear Infection usually happens in only one ear at a time. With a middle ear infection your child may have fever and sharp ear pain. When your health care provider looks into your child's ear, they might see a bulging red eardrum and some fluid in the middle ear.
  • Middle Ear Fluid is usually found in both ears at once. Most children do not have fever or pain with middle ear fluid. A special test is needed to look for this fluid (see How Do I Know If My Child is Affected By Middle Ear Fluid?).

What Causes Middle Ear Fluid?

Here are some things that may cause middle ear fluid to happen in your child.

  • Past ear infection. It is common for children to have middle ear infections. And some children with middle ear infection later have middle ear fluid.
  • Blockage of the eustachian tube.
  • Cold or flu. 

There is no one cause for middle car fluid. Often, your child's health care provider will not know what caused the middle ear fluid.

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