Are Ear Infections Contagious?

Are you worried that you might have an ear infection? Ear infections are remarkably common, particularly in younger children. However, adults can get them too and you have no doubt experienced one at some point in your life. An ear infection will usually cause your ear to be painful and may also trigger signs of tinnitus. This is where you begin to hear sounds that aren’t really there. Hearing your heartbeat or breathing echoing in your ear or your ear being increasingly itchy can be another sign that your ear is infected.

There are various different types of ear infections and some are more significant than others. While a doctor may tell you that your ear infection is not contagious, this isn’t strictly true. Though the infection can not spread from person to person the cause of the infection certainly can. It isn’t uncommon for partners who share a bed to both develop an ear infection or for the infection to spread through a group of children.

It’s also simplifying matters to say that an ear infection is never dangerous. It is indeed possible for an ear infection to spread to other areas of the body and cause a more serious issue. So, it is worth taking steps to control an infection, and avoid it spreading or moving from person to person.

That’s exactly what we’re going to explore this article.

The Main Type Of Ear Infection

Ortis media or middle ear infection is the main problem that most will experience. It often starts with an infection that impacts the throat or the nose before moving to the ear. So, symptoms can be quite similar to getting a cold or having the flu.

Once the infection starts it can then spread to different areas such as the Eustachian tubes. Mucus begins to block the tubes and stops things from draining causing the development of bacteria. When this happens the mucus begins to cause the eardrum to stretch which is why it can be quite painful. If an infection has occurred then the mucus will be red or cloudy. You won’t be able to see this of course, but with a tool known as an otoscope, a doctor certainly can. If mucus is actually flooding the canal, then the eardrum may have been torn.

The good news is that these infections will often disappear within between 3 days and two weeks. As such, you won’t usually be prescribed meds unless the issue persists. Even then, doctors are often unwilling to prescribe treatment because typically there will be no need. However, for a very severe infection, they will provide you with antibiotics in the form of ear drops.

However, often the best form of treatment for a middle ear infection is a warm compress. This can be used on the outside of the ear while taking something like ibuprofen.

You might get a middle ear infection more often if you have an issue with your immune system or you are constantly around tobacco smoke. It’s also quite common for people who spend time around crowds to develop infections such as this.

Middle ear infections themselves are not serious however complications can occur on rare occasions. For instance, the infection can spread to the inner area or even the lining of the brain. This leads to meningitis. Temporary hearing loss is also a possibility as is vertigo which will cause the individual to feel dizzy and potentially nauseous.

Avoiding The Spread Of A Middle Ear Infection

If you want to make sure that you avoid this type of common infection then there are some steps you can take. For instance, you should think about making sure that you are getting a flu shot regularly and clean the part of your ear that is visible. As well as this, you should avoid putting foreign objects inside your ear and make sure that you are washing your hands regularly.

The Other Type Of An Ear Infection

The other type of ear infection is commonly described as swimmer’s ear. This is an infection of the outer ear and is also known as otitis externa. Moisture in the ear canal causes the development of bacteria and fungus. This can also be triggered by a range of different skin conditions such as acne and eczema. In these cases, scratches occur on the skin in the ear canal.

It can cause anything from pain to itchiness or swelling and you may also notice a discharge. Usually, this type of infection will clear up in roughly ten days. However, it can last a lot longer than this, particularly if actions cause further irritation.

Antibiotics will typically be provided for swimmer’s ear that lasts significantly longer than one would expect or causes issues such as severe pain. For instance, drops, and ointment can be used as a way to get rid of the fungus or bacteria that might be present within the ear.

Similar to the other type of infection, a warm compress can be useful to provide relief for many of the symptoms. Or, you may wish to use over the counter painkillers like ibuprofen. You also need to make sure that you are keeping your ear as dry as possible. To do this, you need to be careful when you are bathing and you should be avoiding swimming when you have an infection.

This type of infection is quite common for people on vacation. Children who dive underwater, venture into a wave pool or spend a lot of time at a water park are all at risk of developing this type of infection. This is likely because swimming and a hot climate are both causes of this type of infection.

Avoiding The Spread Of Swimmer’s Ear

If you are keen to avoid this possibility, you or your child should make sure that you are wearing waterproof earbuds. These will keep the water and moisture out of your ear completely. These earbuds adapt and can be molded to the specific shape of your ear to ensure that there is absolutely no way that any water can escape through. However, sound can still travel in and out so you will still be able to hear which means that they are safe for public use. In this way, they work a lot like ear protection you might wear for a music concert.

Other causes and issues that may result in swimmers ear would be using earphones or earbuds and using anything to clean out your ears that should not be there. This is virtually everything. You shouldn’t be inserting anything inside your ear if you think it is dirty. This can be dangerous and potentially cause an infection to spread. If you are worried that your ear or your child’s inner ear is clogged up with ear wax, then always consult a professional. They will be able to provide the right type of clean out that won’t cause a risk of infection.

You can clean parts of the ear yourself, but this should only be the absolute outer ear. You can do this with a damp cloth. When you do clean your outer ear, make sure that you are using a towel that is clean and that any earbuds or anything that goes near the ear, is also clean. Don’t share towels when you visit a swimming pool or water park either. This will cause an infection to spread.

Are These Infections Dangerous?

Typically, swimmer’s ear will not be considered dangerous. However, they can have painful repercussions. For instance, there is a reason that doctors will generally recommend that a child should not fly with an ear infection. It isn’t dangerous, but it will be incredibly painful particularly for children who may have no idea why flying is hurting them so much. It’s common for ears to ‘pop’ on a plane due to the high level of pressure. When you have an ear infection, there is even more pressure resulting in more pain and potential loss of hearing or a burst eardrum.

Aside from this, the infection may spread and children could experience repeated infections. Generally speaking, more serious issues will occur when there is an underlying medical condition. For instance, if you or your child has a weakened immune system, then ear infections can and perhaps should be more of a concern. At the very least, you will need to keep an eye on them and take more care to ensure that they do not spread.

Signs To Watch Out For In Children

Parents are often worried about the impact of an ear infection for their children. Indeed, from anywhere between six and eighteen months, an ear infection can actually be quite serious. If your child is commonly experiencing ear infections around this age, then it can lead to everything from developmental to language delays. It can even cause permanent hearing loss.

As such, you need to make sure that you are watching out for the signs of an issue here. It is absolutely crucial that if ear infections do occur regularly in a child of this age that you take them to see a doctor so that they can get appropriate treatment.

One of the issues is that children during this age are often non-verbal. You might know that they are in pain due to their actions or emotions. However, you won’t be able to pinpoint the cause of their pain and they won’t be able to tell you. So, how can you tell if your child is suffering from an ear infection?

A child can show a number of different signs that they are suffering from an ear infection. You might not be aware that an issue with the ear can cause a problem with balance. So, if a child is stumbling or seems more clumsy than usual, this could be a sign. It’s also likely that they will be tugging at their ear or even sticking their fingers in. They will do this to try and remove whatever is hurting them which of course isn’t possible and can make the issues worse. You might even find they develop a fever and at this point, it is crucial that you get them the treatment they need. A fever is anything around 102 degrees.

Why Are Ear Infections Common In Children?

You might be wondering why ear infections are more common in children. Well, there are a number of reasons for this. The main cause though is their eustachian tubes, the ones that get clogged with mucus, are shorter. The horizontal angle also means that the connection is far more likely to get infected and clogged.

There are other factors to consider too. For instance, a child who was born prematurely has Down syndrome or a Cleft palate could be more likely to develop this issue. Using a pacifier may also be an issue particularly if it is not kept clean as this will spread bacteria. Another reason is that children often lie back while feeding or drinking.

So, how many ear infections are too many? Well, typically if a child is experiencing three infections each six months or four infections within a year, then this should be a cause for concern. This is when long term effects can become an issue and why you need to make sure that you are visiting a doctor as soon as possible.

Don’t Underestimate An Ear Infection

Ear infections are not serious by themselves but they can have severe complications and cause issues. It’s best to take the steps we have mentioned to avoid them where possible. If you can’t do this, then you need to make sure that the infection does not spread.

This will be possible as long as you keep the ear clean, do not insert any foreign objects inside the ear, practice good hygiene and be careful about public items that you are using.

If you do feel as though an ear infection is severe or you are worried about symptoms that are growing increasingly worse, make sure that you contact a doctor immediately for advice and treatment. This is particularly important with young children or anyone who has a weakened immune system.