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What is Fluid in the Ear?

By A. Garrett
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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When the Eustachian tube is blocked or damaged, fluid in the ear results. The medical terms for this condition are serous otitis media and otitis media with effusion. Eustachian tubes transfer mucous and other liquids from the ear to the throat. If the tubes become clogged, fluid enters the middle ear and causes auditory complications.

Otitis media is Latin for fluid infection of the middle ear. The term otitis media with effusion means there is fluid behind the eardrum. These infection symptoms can be acute, which means they arise suddenly, or chronic, which means symptoms last for a prolonged period of time.

Most people will suffer from an ear infection at some point in their lives. Children develop fluid in the ear more often than any other age group because of the structure of their ears. Swimmers are also susceptible to otitis media as well due to the amount of time they spend under water. This type of ear infection is commonly referred to as swimmer’s ear.

Fluid in the ear is the result of swelling or blockage of the Eustachian tube. The tube drains fluids by allowing air pressure to force the liquid substances to the back of the throat. Allergies, common colds, viral infections, and blunt force to the ear all can cause the Eustachian tube to swell and inhibit the draining of fluids. As a result, fluid in the ear begins to accumulate.

Infection symptoms vary depending on the magnitude of fluid build-up and whether such ear infections are chronic or acute. If the otitis media is acute, the pain will be more severe. Chronic ear infections are typically less painful, but can permanently damage the eardrum, resulting in hearing loss. Nausea, headaches, and dizziness are also symptoms associated with fluid in the ear.

Doctors detect fluid in the ear through the use of an otoscope. Otoscopes magnify the inner ear and allow doctors to see the eardrum and middle ear. Usually, a doctor will be able to see the fluid, which typically has a yellow or green tinge.

Fluid in the ear may not require medical intervention. In such cases, the swelling and fluid levels decrease with time. If the infection is more severe or the pain is overwhelming, a doctor may prescribe medication. Eardrops, Benadryl®, or antibiotics may be prescribed to treat the infection and lower fluid levels. Aspirin may also be recommended to alleviate the pain associated with fluid in the ear.

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