SMED Glossary of Terms


First things first—otitis media may sound fancy, but it’s actually just Latin for inflammation (otitis) of the middle ear (media). It’s another way of saying “ear infection.” Ear infections extremely common. Most children will have at least one ear infection at some point in their life. Most infections go away on their own after a few weeks.

There are two very common types of ear infection. Acute otitis media (AOM) usually involves ear pain (otalgia and fever. AOM is commonly referred to more generally as “otitis media.”Otitis media with effusion (OME), on the other hand, usually does not have any symptoms, and is when liquid builds up in the middle ear space. Both types of otitis media are considered to be middle-ear diseases. There are other types of middle-ear diseases, as well, besides otitis media.

It’s always best to talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you might have about otitis media and other middle-ear diseases, but in the meantime, this glossary of terms may help to clarify a few things.

Glossary of Terms:

Acute mastoiditis is an infection that can occur as a complication of acute otitis media, when the middle ear infection spreads to the mastoid bone (You can feel the outer part of the mastoid on your head behind your outer ear.) Signs and symptoms include the outer ear pushing forward, swelling, tenderness, redness, and pain behind the outer ear.

Adenoids are structures that sit behind the nose, similar to the tonsils in the throat or the lymph nodes (glands) in the neck. IMAGE

Adenoidectomy is a surgery to remove the adenoids. This can help if you are having trouble breathing through your nose, or if you experience chronic infections or earaches.

Allergy can lead to inflammation of the middle ear (otitis media). Allergy symptoms often include itchy nose, eyes, or throat; a chronic runny nose; and repeated sneezing spells—especially around fresh cut grass, dogs or cats, or during certain seasons when the pollen count is high (such as spring or fall).

Antibiotics are medications used to fight infections caused by bacteria. They can be used to treat otitis media. Not all cases of otitis media require antibiotics, however; most of the time ear infections will go away on their own. Common antibiotics include penicillin and amoxicillin. Some people can be allergic to certain kinds of antibiotics.

Antihistamine is a medication used to treat allergies. They can sometimes cause drowsiness.

Anti-inflammatory medicines reduce swelling and pain. They are found in many of the antibiotic eardrops your doctor may prescribe to treat an ear infection.

Audiogram is a graph made to show how you are hearing.

Audiometer is a machine used to make an audiogram. IMAGE

Bacteria are types of microorganisms that are everywhere. Not all bacteria (or germs) are bad, but some can cause infections like otitis media and other illnesses.

Bacterial resistance happens when bacteria change their structure in such a way that antibiotics can’t kill them anymore. This can happen when you don’t follow the instructions on the label of your antibiotics, or don’t finish taking the full dose. Not all bacteria become resistant, but when they do, some antibiotics can effectively kill them.

Barotitis (bare-uh-TIE-tus) is a buildup of fluid in the middle ear after a person has experienced barotrauma.

Barotrauma is an injury to the middle ear caused by rapid changes in barometric pressure (or air pressure)—like when taking off or landing in an airplane, or while scuba diving or deep diving in a pool.

Brain abscess is a rare complication of an ear infection. A pocket of pus inside the brain develops when bacteria, fungi, or viruses from the ear infection spread to the brain. The most common symptoms include headache, drowsiness, confusion, and rapidly progressing fever. More severe symptoms include speech difficulties and seizures. Brain abscesses are treated with antibiotics or with surgery to remove the pus by draining it. IMAGE

Cholesteatoma (col-es-tea-ah-TOE-ma) is a lump of skin that can grow in the middle ear (behind the eardrum), or sometimes in the mastoid, usually as a complication of middle-ear disease.

Chronic otitis media with effusion is inflammation of the middle ear with liquid trapped in the middle ear space, which lasts for several months or longer. It’s also known as chronic secretory otitis media, or glue ear. IMAGE

Cleft palate is when the roof of the mouth (palate) is not fully formed at birth. IMAGE

Cochlea (COKE-lee-ah) is the snail-shaped structure in the inner ear that sends sounds to the brain to process into what we actually “hear.” IMAGE

Cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device similar to a hearing aid, but made for children and adults who are extremely hard of hearing or deaf. IMAGE

Conductive hearing loss is hearing loss caused by damage to the outer and middle ear, or the structures that conduct (move) sound through the ear. (This includes the ear canal, eardrum, and the ear bones, or ossicles [LINK to all of these].)

Decongestant is a medicine that helps relieve the pressure of a stuffy nose, and may be used to help symptoms related to otitis media, especially if the ear infection develops from a common cold [LINK to URI].

Ear fluid (also called effusion) is liquid trapped behind the eardrum in the middle ear. It’s caused by ear infection, cold and flu, and/or when your Eustachian tubes are blocked or not functioning properly. Ear fluid can cause loss of balance, temporary hearing loss, or a feeling of fullness in the ears. It can be treated with antibiotics or tympanostomy tubes . It can also go away on its own.

Ear infection happens when bacteria or viruses enter the outer or middle ear. It’s also called otitis media (when the infection is in the middle ear) or otitis externa (when it’s in the outer ear). Ear infections can cause pain or aching in the ear, fever, ear fluid (effusion), loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping, or drainage from the ear. Many ear infections get better on their own. Some get better with antibiotics.

Ear wax is a substance produced by the ears that helps keep harmful things like bacteria, viruses, and larger objects from getting in.

Eardrum (also called the tympanic membrane) is the thin barrier between the ear canal (part of the outer ear) and the middle ear. It transmits sound to the hearing bones (or ossicles). IMAGE

Eustachian tube (you-STAY-shun tube) connects the upper part of your throat and nose to your middle ear. It mainly regulates air pressure and protects the middle ear. When there is a buildup of liquid in the middle ear, which is normally filled with air, the Eustachian tube helps to drain the liquid. IMAGE

Extradural abscess can happen as a complication of an ear infection. It is similar to a brain abscess, but it occurs in the space between the brain and the skull. It is treated with antibiotics or surgery to relieve the pressure and drain the pus.

Facial palsy is a sudden weakness in facial muscles causing the face (or part of the face) to droop. It can be caused by middle ear infection or mastoiditis and it is treated with medication or surgery.

Facial paralysis is when you lose movement in some of the muscles in your face because of nerve damage. Facial paralysis can happen as a result of middle-ear disease (especially in babies) but it has other causes as well. If facial paralysis is caught early, complete recovery is possible.

Granulation tissue is the skin that grows around a wound as it heals. It is tender and fleshy, and can develop on the eardrum or in the ear canal as a result of an ear infection.

Hearing bones (or ossicles) are in the middle ear. They are the smallest three bones in the human body, and they all move together to transmit sound waves to the cochlea in the inner ear The hammer (malleus) is attached to the eardrum and to the anvil (incus), which is attached to the stirrup (stapes). IMAGE WITH LABELS

Immature immunity is when people, especially babies and young children, get sick more often than adults because their immune systems have not yet fully developed. People with immature immunity are more likely to get all types of infections, including ear infections.

Immunoglobulins are special cells (called antibodies) that fight off infections

Infection happens when microorganisms such as viruses or bacteria invade the body and cause inflammation

Inflammation is part of how your body responds to infection caused by viruses or bacteria—or to a physical injury. Heat (fever) and swelling are usually part of the inflammatory response.

Inner ear receives sound from the eardrum and the bones in the middle ear. It then sends the sounds to the brain to process. The inner ear also helps you balance. IMAGE

Isthmus (ISS-muss) is the narrow portion in the middle of the Eustachian tube that’s important for stopping secretions like mucus from the nasopharynx (the space behind the nose and throat) from getting into the middle ear. IMAGE/DIAGRAM

Labyrinth is another name for the inner ear, where the cochlea (hearing part) and semicircular canals (balance part of the hearing system) are located.

Labyrinthitis is an infection of the inner ear, which can happen if a middle-ear infection spreads. Because the inner ear is where the hearing and balance parts of the ear are, labyrinthitis can cause tinnitus, dizziness, vertigo, poor balance, and moderate to severe hearing loss. [LINK to all these terms]

Lumen is a channel that allows the Eustachian tube to bring air into the middle ear. Also, secretions that are made in the middle ear travel through the lumen into the nasopharynx (the space behind the nose and throat). IMAGE

Mastoid is a bone connected to the back of the middle ear. It is also sometimes called the mastoid bone or mastoid process. It is made up of pockets filled with air (a bit like a sponge or Swiss cheese)—not like other bones in the body, which are harder. You can feel the outer bone-like part of the mastoid on your head, just behind your ear. IMAGE

Mastoidectomy is a surgery to open up and remove some of the mastoid in order to drain or get rid of an infection, such as mastoiditis or cholesteatoma.

Mastoiditis is an infection of your mastoid bone. It’s often caused by untreated ear infections, which can spread to the inner ear and infect the air-filled pockets of the mastoid. This can be dangerous if the infection causes the bone to disintegrate. Mastoiditis is treated with antibiotics and sometimes surgery (called a mastoidectomy).

Meningitis is when the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord (meninges) become inflamed. It can be caused by complications from middle-ear infections and/or mastoiditis. It can cause headache, stiff neck, confusion, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, and drowsiness. Meningitis can get better on its own, or it can be life-threatening and may require urgent antibiotics.

Middle ear is the space behind the eardrum between the outer ear (the part you can see) and the inner ear (the hearing and balance part). This is where the three little hearing bones (ossicles) are located. The middle ear is connected to the Eustachian tube the front and the mastoid at the back. IMAGES

Middle-ear effusion is the liquid that builds up in the middle ear from an ear infection or a blocked Eustachian tube. It can be thin and watery, thick and mucus-like, or pus-like.

Myringotomy (my-ring-AH-to-me) is a tiny hole in the eardrum that is made with surgery in order to drain and remove the liquid (effusion) in the middle ear. Tympanostomy tubes are placed in the hole to help the liquid drain.

Nasopharynx (nay-zo-FARE-inx) is the open area behind the spaces in back of your nose (nasal cavities) that connects to the throat. IMAGE

Ossicles (AH-sik-lees) (hearing bones) are the three smallest bones in the human body. They are all connected to each other and they move together to carry sound from the eardrum to the inner ear, where it is sent to the brain to process. The malleus is shaped like a hammer; the incus is shaped like an anvil (or a block with a flat top) and the stapes is shaped like the stirrup of a riding saddle (the part where you hook your shoes). IMAGES

Ossicular discontinuity is when at least two of the three hearing bones in the middle ear get separated. This can cause difficulty hearing. It happens as a result of chronic suppurative ear infection (with pus), perforation of the eardrum, cholesteatoma, or barotrauma, or from damaging the eardrum with a Q-tip or other object.

Ossicular fixation is when one or more of the hearing bones stop moving, usually as a result of an injury or ear infection. It can cause hearing loss and is usually treated with surgery or hearing aids.

Otalgia (oh-TAL-ja) is ear pain, or earache.

Otitis externa is an outer ear infection. It is also called “swimmer’s ear,” because swimmers often get these ear infections from spending lots of time in the water.

Otitis media is inflammation of the middle ear. It’s a fancy way of saying ear infection. The two most common kinds are acute otitis media (AOM), which can be painful, and otitis media with effusion (OME), which often doesn’t include symptoms. IMAGES

Otitis media with effusion is inflammation of the middle ear with liquid trapped in the middle ear space. Otitis media with effusion does not have the same signs and symptoms as acute otitis media, such as fever or serious ear pain and/or earache. It often goes away on its own.

Otitis prone describes children who are more likely to get middle ear infections, especially when they are very young. This has to do with their immature immune systems (LINK to immature immunity).

Otolaryngologist (oh-toe-larin-GO-lo-jist) is an ear, nose, and throat doctor.

Otorrhea (oh-toe-REE-ah) is liquid draining out of the ear.

Otoscopy (ah-TOS-kuh-pee) is a procedure where a doctor uses an otoscope (like a hand-held microscope for the ears, nose, and throat) to see into the ear canal and eardrum, in order to tell if a person has fluid in the middle ear. IMAGE OF INSTRUMENT

Outer ear is the external portion of your ear, where people sometimes have earrings (in their earlobes or anywhere else on their ears). The outer ear includes the ear canal. It is also sometimes called the pinna or auricle. IMAGE

Patulous Eustachian tube is when the Eustachian tube is unusually open (or patent). IMAGE

Perforation is a tear or hole in the eardrum. Most of the time perforations are small but they can be severe if the eardrum bursts during an acute ear infection, or if a tympanostomy tube falls out of your eardrum.

Petrositis (petro-SY-tus) is an infection of the innermost portion of the temporal bone (petrous), which surrounds the middle and inner ears and mastoid. It’s caused by bacterial infection from the middle ear and/or mastoid, and treated with antibiotics or surgery.

Retraction pocket is like a dimple in your eardrum. It usually goes away on its own, but is caused when part of the eardrum gets pulled back (retracted) into the middle ear by changes in barometric pressure (or air pressure). People can experience this in airplanes or when scuba diving, or diving in a deep pool.

Semicircular canals are in the inner ear, or labyrinth, and are involved in helping you balance. IMAGE

Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the cochlea (the hearing mechanism in the middle ear), the hearing nerve, and/or the part of the brain that processes sound.

Sinusitis can potentially cause inflammation in the middle ear (otitis media). Symptoms include pain in the face, a runny nose, headache, daytime cough, bad breath (halitosis), a cold lasting longer than 2 weeks, or a severe cold with a fever.

Tinnitus (tin-it-us/ tin-EYE-tus) is when you hear a constant sound in your ears (like a ringing, buzzing, popping, or snapping) that isn’t there in real life.

Tonsillectomy is a surgery to remove your tonsils.

Tonsils are two ball-like structures that sit on either side of your throat, similar to the adenoids in your nose. When your tonsils are inflamed, you can see them sticking out when you open your mouth and say “Ahhh.” IMAGE

Tympanocentesis (TIM-pan-oh-sen-TEE-sis) is a test your doctor will do to determine which type of bacteria is causing a middle-ear infection. The procedure is done by putting a needle attached to a syringe through the eardrum and into the middle ear to suction out some of the fluid, which is then tested in the laboratory. It relieves the pressure and pain of having fluid trapped in the middle-ear space.

Tympanometry (TIM-pan-AH-met-ree) is a test to determine if you have fluid in your middle ear, a middle-ear infection, a tear in your eardrum, or a problem with your Eustachian tube [LINKS to all]. Your doctor places a tympanometer (a special device) in your ear canal. It sends sounds through a stopper and changes the pressure in your ear, making your eardrum move back and forth. It may be a little uncomfortable. A tympanogram is the visual recording of the sound that bounces off your eardrum during the tympanometry.

Tympanosclerosis (TIM-pan-oh-skler-OH-sis) is also known as myringosclerosis (MY-ring-oh-skler-OH-sis), and is when the eardrum scars because of re-occurring middle-ear disease, or a tympanostomy tube—sometimes both. It can result in hearing loss.

Tympanostomy tube is a small tube that gets put through a tiny hole in the eardrum (following a myringotomy) in order to let air into the middle ear. Tympanostomy tubes are used to treat otitis media with effusion. They are also sometimes called pressure-equalizing tubes. IMAGE

Upper respiratory infection, or URI, is a common cold. They are caused by viruses and occur most often in the fall and winter. They frequently accompany an ear infection. A URI will usually go away within two weeks and does not require antibiotics.

Vaccines are shots people get to prevent the flu, or infections that can lead to otitis media and other middle ear diseases.

Vertigo is the feeling of moving when you and your surroundings are actually standing still. It usually results from a problem with the inner ear.

Virus is a small organism that can get inside your cells and replicate itself using your cells’ information. They can infect any type of living organism and they can cause similar health problems to bacteria. Viral infections do not require antibiotics.

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