Otitis Media with Effusion

Publication Date: February 1, 2016

Key Points

Key Points

  • Otitis media with effusion (OME) is defined as the presence of fluid in the middle ear (Figure 1, Table 1) without signs or symptoms of acute ear infection.
    • By contrast, acute otitis media (AOM) is the rapid onset of signs and symptoms of inflammation in the middle ear, most often with ear pain and a bulging eardrum.
  • Synonyms for OME include ear fluid and serous, secretory, or nonsuppurative otitis media.
  • About 90% of children have OME before school age, and they develop, on average, 4 episodes of OME every year.
    • In the first year of life, >50% of children will experience OME, increasing to >60% by age 2 years.
  • OME is largely asymptomatic, and many episodes are therefore undetected, including those episodes in children with hearing difficulties or school performance issues.
    • When children aged 5-6 years in primary school are screened for OME, about 1 in 8 are found to have fluid in one or both ears.
  • The prevalence of OME in children with Down syndrome or cleft palate, however, is much higher, ranging from 60-85%.
  • Most episodes of OME resolve spontaneously within 3 months, but about 30%-40% of children have repeated OME episodes and 5%-10% of episodes last ≥1 year.
  • At least 25% of OME episodes persist for 3 months or longer and may be associated with hearing loss, balance (vestibular) problems, poor school performance, behavioral problems, ear discomfort, recurrent AOM, or reduced QOL.
    • Less often, OME may cause structural damage to the tympanic membrane that requires surgical intervention.

Table 1. Abbreviations and Definitions of Common Terms

Having trouble viewing table?

Term and Definition

Otitis media with effusion (OME)
The presence of fluid in the middle ear without signs or symptoms of acute ear infection.
Chronic OME
OME persisting for 3 months or longer from the date of onset (if known) or from the date of diagnosis (if onset is unknown).
Acute otitis media (AOM)
The rapid onset of signs and symptoms of inflammation of the middle ear.
Middle ear effusion
Fluid in the middle ear from any cause. Middle ear effusion is present with both OME and AOM, and may persist for weeks or months after the signs and symptoms of AOM resolve.
Hearing assessment
A means of gathering information about a child’s hearing status, which may include caregiver report, audiologic assessment by an audiologist, or hearing testing by a physician or allied health professional using screening or standard equipment, which may be automated or manual. Does not include use of noisemakers or other non-standardized methods.
Pneumatic otoscopy
A method of examining the middle ear by using an otoscope with an attached rubber bulb to change the pressure in the ear canal and see how the eardrum reacts. A normal eardrum moves briskly with applied pressure but when there is fluid in the middle ear the movement is minimal or sluggish.
Tympanogram
An objective measure of how easily the tympanic membrane vibrates and at what pressure it does so most easily (pressure- admittance function). If the middle ear is filled with fluid (e.g., OME), vibration is impaired and the result is a flat, or nearly flat, tracing. If the middle ear is filled with air, but at a higher or lower pressure than the surrounding atmosphere, the peak on the graph will be shifted in position based on the pressure (to the left if negative, to the right if positive).
Conductive hearing loss
Hearing loss from abnormal or impaired sound transmission to the inner ear, which is often associated with effusion in the middle ear, but can be caused by other middle ear abnormalities as tympanic membrane perforation, or ossicle abnormalities
Sensorineural hearing loss
Hearing loss that results from abnormal transmission of sound from the sensory cells of the inner ear to the brain.

Diagnosis

Diagnos...

...ure 1. Location of the Middle Ear...


...Comparison of OME (top) with AOM (bottom)...


.... Position of the Eustachian Tube...


...mal, Type A Tympanogram Resul...


...mal, Type B, Tympanogram Results...


...Summary of Guideline Key Diagnost...


...otoscopyThe clinician should document the...


...ic otoscopyThe clinician should perfor...


...metryClinicians should obtain tympanometry in...


...iled newborn hearing screenClinicians shou...


...kClinicians should determine if a child with O...


...t-risk childrenClinicians should evaluat...


...ing healthy childrenClinicians sho...


...al Tips for Performing Pneumatic OtoscopyHavi...


...Factors for Developmental Difficulties in C...


...re 6. Algorit...


Treatment

...atment

Table 5. Summary of Guideline Key Trea...

...ent educationClinicians should educate families...

...l waitingClinicians should manage the child...

...oidsClinicians should recommend against u...

AntibioticsClinicians should recommen...

...nes or decongestantsClinicians should...

...icians should obtain an age-appropriate...

...and languageClinicians should couns...

...of chronic OMEClinicians should reevaluate,...

...ldren less than 4 years oldClinicians sh...

...ildren 4 years old or olderClinicians should re...

...assessmentWhen managing a child wi...


Table 6. Evidence-Based Recommendations for Tympan...

...for performing tympanostomy tube insertion:...

Chronic bilateral OME with hearing...

...c OME with symptomsClinicians may perform tympa...

...with middle ear effusion (or OME)Clinici...

...stomy tubes in at-risk childrenCli...

...commendations for NOT performing tym...

...short durationClinicians should NOT perform tympan...

...without middle ear effusion (or OME)Cli...


...le 7. Shared Decision Grid for Parents and C...


...equently Asked Questions: Understa...


...9. Frequently Asked Questions: Ear Flu...


...e 10. Frequently Asked Questions: Treating a...


...egies for Improving the Listening and Lea...


...12. Counseling Information on Otitis Medi...