Otitis media is an infection or inflammation of the middle ear. This inflammation often begins when other infections causing sore throats, colds, or other respiratory or breathing problems spread to the middle ear. These infections can be viral or bacterial in nature. It is estimated that seventy-five percent of children experience an episode of otitis media by their third birthday. Almost half of these children will have three or more ear infections during their first 3 years. The medical costs and lost wages caused by otitis media amount to an estimated $5 billion a year in the United States.