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The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the ears. A scope will be used to view inside the ears to look for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, and discharge around the eardrum. A small puff of air may also be passed into the ear. A healthy eardrum will move. An eardrum that does not move may be stiff due to swelling or fluid from infection. This is usually enough to make the diagnosis.

Other tests may be:

  • Tympanometry—A soft plug is placed at the opening of the ear. It can measure movement of the eardrum.
  • Tympanocentesis—A needle is used to remove fluid or pus from the middle ear. It is tested to look for the virus or bacteria causing the infection. This can help choose the best medicines to treat it.


Acute otitis media (AOM) in children. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed May 17, 2022.

Ear infections in children. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website. Available at: Accessed May 17, 2022.

Middle ear infections. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: Accessed May 17, 2022.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kuenn, MD
  • Review Date: 11/2021
  • Update Date: 05/18/2022