Otitis media with effusion (OME), also known as serous otitis media or secretory otitis media (SOM), is a condition in which fluid builds up in the middle ear without any signs of infection. It is the most common cause of hearing loss in children, and it can also affect adults.
OME is caused by a blockage in the Eustachian tube, which is a tube that connects the middle ear to the back of the throat. The Eustachian tube helps to drain fluid from the middle ear and equalize pressure. When the Eustachian tube is blocked, fluid can build up in the middle ear, causing hearing loss, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and other symptoms.
OME is often caused by a cold or other upper respiratory infection. Other causes include allergies, enlarged adenoids, and cleft palate.
Most cases of OME resolve spontaneously within a few weeks or months. However, if the fluid does not clear up on its own, treatment may be necessary. Treatment options include:
- Watchful waiting: This is the most common treatment for OME. The doctor will monitor the child’s hearing and symptoms to see if the fluid clears up on its own.
- Decongestants and allergy medications: These medications can help to reduce inflammation and open up the Eustachian tube.
- Antibiotics: Antibiotics are not usually needed for OME, but they may be prescribed if the child has a fever or signs of an ear infection.
- Ear tubes: Ear tubes are small tubes that are placed in the eardrum to help drain fluid from the middle ear. Ear tubes are usually a last resort, but they may be recommended for children with chronic OME or hearing loss.
If you have any concerns about OME, be sure to talk to your doctor.