The Dragonfly Story

Structure, Causes, Signs, & Symptoms

Structure of the ear

The ear is made up of a number of parts, all of which have particular functions to perform.

The outer ear collects sound waves, and channels them along the ear canal towards the middle ear.

The middle ear is separated from the outer ear by the tympanic membrane (or ear drum). It contains three small bones which transmit sound through the oval window and into the inner ear.

The middle ear is connected to the back of the nose and throat by the eustachian tube which ventilates the middle ear and allows fluid to drain.

The inner ear contains the cochlea which transmits sound messages to the brain for analysis – which we call hearing.

Any obstruction in the passage of sound waves to the brain will result in conductive hearing loss.

Causes of otitis media

Colds or flus, large adenoids or tonsils and allergies can all cause blockage of the eustachian tube.

This blockage may lead to one of the three types of otitis media. These are:

Acute otitis media – an infection in the middle ear caused by a bacterial or viral infection.

Chronic otitis media (also known as glue ear) – a persistent infection in the middle ear.

Chronic suppurative otitis media (also known as runny ear) – serious and persistent infection in the middle, often accompanied by discharge from the ear.

Common signs and symptoms


  • Pain or earache
  • High temperature Discharge
  • Smelly ears
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea Runny nose


  • Irritability
  • Poor appetite
  • Sleeping disturbances
  • Frustration or anger

The Conductive Hearing Loss Screening Tool and CHL Profile included in this volume can be used to help to identify children who are suffering from conductive hearing loss / otitis media. Parents, community members and school staff may all play a part in completing this screening questionnaire.


Otitis media may be treated in a number of different ways. These may include the use of antibiotics or antihistamines or the insertion of grommets to ventilate the middle ear. Grommets are small tubes which are inserted through the ear drum. They have a hole in the centre that allows air to circulate from the ear canal into the middle ear.

Blowing the nose regularly (particularly when suffering from a cold or flu) can help to prevent more serious complications.

Untreated otitis media can result in a permanent hole in the eardrum which must be surgically patched to prevent poor hearing.

Prevention of otitis media

To help reduce the occurrence and severity of otitis media the following strategies should be utilised:

Breathe Blow Cough (BBC)
Regular nose blowing
Eating healthy foods
Working with community support services