In the presence of an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, tonsillitis, or pharyngitis, fluid in the middle ear may become infected. This results in what is commonly called an abscessed ear or an infected middle ear.
This infected fluid (pus) in the middle ear may cause severe pain. If examination reveals that there is considerable ear pressure, a myringotomy (incision of the eardrum membrane) may be necessary to relieve the abscess, and the pain. In many instances antibiotic treatment will suffice.
Should a myringotomy be necessary, the ear may drain pus and blood for several days. The tympanic membrane then heals and the hearing usually returns to normal within three to four weeks.
Antibiotic treatment, with or without a myringotomy, usually results in normal middle ear function within three to four weeks. During this healing period there are varying degrees of ear pressure, popping, clicking and fluctuation of hearing, occasionally with shooting pains in the ear.
Resolution of the acute infection occasionally leaves the patient with uninfected fluid in the middle ear. This is called chronic serous otitis media.