Fluid in the ear: How it is diagnosed and treated

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Fluid in the ear usually occurs as a result of an ear infection, but can occur under any condition in which the auditory tube is compromised. The auditory tube is responsible for draining fluid from the ear into the rear of the throat. If the tube is clogged, fluid will end up trapped into the space of the middle ear. The fluid is called effusion by doctors and allergies and common cold can often result to fluid in the ear.

Who are at risk for fluid in the ear?

Any individual can end up with fluid in the ear, but it is more likely to affect children due to the anatomy of the auditory tube. Most children can develop the condition even before they reach school age.

What are the indications?

Fluid in the ear may or may not trigger any symptoms. Generally, almost half of cases of otitis media with effusion have no signs or symptoms. In case symptoms do occur, they include the following:

Fluid in the ear
Minimal ear pain that comes and goes
  • Hearing loss
  • Minimal ear pain that comes and goes
  • Delayed gross motor skills
  • Delayed development with language and speech skills
  • Balance problems

There are various conditions that can trigger similar symptoms of fluid in the ear or might be present at the same time such as the following:

  • Ear drainage
  • Middle ear infections
  • Earache
  • Ear barotrauma


In the previous years, medications were used to manage fluid in the ear such as antihistamines and decongestants as well as steroids and antibiotics. Based on studies conducted, these medications are not effective in managing fluid in the ear.

It is important to note that fluid in the ear can occur with or without an active infection. Antibiotics are not useful unless there is a current ear infection.

In asymptomatic cases and the child is not at risk for developmental delays, the doctor will monitor the child for 3 months to check if the fluid subsides on its own. If the fluid persists, the child is asymptomatic and not at risk for developmental delays, the doctor might continue to monitor the child at 3-6 month intervals. If the fluid does not subside, the child has bothersome symptoms or if the development or hearing is affected, the doctor might decide to opt for the surgical placement of ventilation tubes.

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