ZocdocAnswersCan a middle ear infection spread to other parts of the body?

Question

Can a middle ear infection spread to other parts of the body?

My son has a middle ear infection and woke up screaming in the middle of the night. We took him to the doctor first thing in the morning. Could this wait have done damage? Could the infection spread?

Answer

The term "middle ear" refers to the space medial (or internal) to the tympanic membrane (or ear drum). The roof of the middle ear (called the tegmen) is actually the floor of the middle cranial fossa which holds the temporal lobes of the brain. There is also an aerated bone called the mastoid (part of the temporal bone) which is connected to the middle ear space. If left untreated for some time (more than a day) otitis media (middle ear infection) can result in mastoiditis (inflammation within the mastoid bone). If the infection builds up enough pressure, it can erode through the tegmen and cause an infection outside the lining that surrounds the brain (epidural abscess). The lining that covers the brain can also get inflamed (meningitis), and the fluid that bathes the brain (CSF) can potentially get infected. These are obvious some of the worst complications of otitis media, and are quite rare. More commonly, the infected fluid within the middle ear builds up pressure, and then since the tympanic membrane is so thin, it can rupture and the infected fluid (pus) drains out the ear canal. While I can't give you any certainties, an ENT or pediatrician who evaluates your child will be able to tell you exactly what is going on, and give you the best course of treatment. I hope this is helpful.

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