Are Ear Infections Contagious? Symptoms, Causes & Prevention
Ears are the most sensitive part of our body. You would feel the pain while cleaning out your ear using an earbud, and it might go a little hard on the eardrums. Ear infections are more common than anyone could ever fathom. Usually, minor children of 3 years of age are prone to experience such conditions, but the solution is probable and straightforward. However, parents and other individuals suffering from ear infections would often ask: Are Ear Infections Contagious?
Like other parts of our body, ears also tend to catch an infection, which can cause a lot of pain. It does not mean there is a rare chance of its occurrence. One could feel the condition taking its toll specifically while suffering from Cold and Flu. The best part about this condition is its curability rate. Its frequent occurrence in more children has led the researchers to find more answers of its appearance and why it happens explicitly to children.
Our ear has a complex mechanism, and this complexity makes the pain even more severe. Nevertheless, to know are ear infections contagious? It is necessary to elaborate on the condition and understand at what point the disease might turn contagious?
What is an Ear Infection?
Similar to other infections that have bacteria or viral infection as the root cause, ear infection resembles other infectious conditions. When the viral or bacterial infection causes the development of fluids and inflammation in the inner ear, an individual is diagnosed with an ear infection.
The severity and feebleness of the condition are due to the middle ear, which is responsible for converting sounds into signals for the brain. The Medical news describes the inner functioning of the middle ear, stating that,
The middle ear is an air-filled space situated behind the eardrum. It contains vibrating bones that convert sound from outside of the ear into meaningful signals for the brain.
Since the bones vibrate, when the middle ear space fills up with the fluid, it develops tremendous pressure over the eardrums while a sound is produced. Hence, it causes a person to experience extreme pain. Other names are prescribed to ear infections such as Glue Ear, middle ear infection, Secretory Otitis Media, etc.
The most significant factor surrounding the question- Are ear infections contagious, contains a pertinent fact: what kind of infection is an individual experiencing. It would then also determine whether or not the condition; it is crucial to figure out the different types of ear infections.
Are Ear Infection Contagious: Defining the Types
Since we discuss the severity and pestilence of ear infections, the acute or chronic nature of the disease defines its type and affects different people differently. Hence to understand this concept, it is vital to study the ear infection type in detail.
OME (Otitis Media with Effusion)
Sometimes, after the occurrence of infection in the middle ear, fluid in small quantities is left behind. A person would not know about this since they won’t experience any pain or other symptoms that bother them. However, when a doctor evaluates the inside of the ear, they would effectively spot the remaining fluid and prescribe medications that reduce any leftover infection or contingency. This kind of ear infection is more common in children making them even more sensitive to newer ear infections.
AOM (Acute Otitis Media with Effusion)
It is the most common ear infection that individuals experience, and a prevalent answer to: are ear infections contagious? Since it tends to occur frequently in people, contacting the disease has a higher probability.
When the ear infection is acute, the middle ear swells up as the fluid gets trapped inside the space. As the bones vibrate due to sound converting into the signal, the fluid causes severe pressure on the eardrums leading to extreme pain.
It is also possible that the building up of mucus inside the middle ear has not happened due to any infection. Sometimes any blockage inside the Eustachian tubes causes pressure inside the eardrums leading to inflammation.
COME (Chronic Otitis Media with Effusion)
Chronic Otitis Media ear infection is the most fatal of all the other categories of ear infection. In this condition, the disease does not budge and keeps occurring repeatedly. This leads to consistent development of mucus in the air-filled space inside the middle ear.
Hence, no treatment seems to work when it concerns Chronic Otitis Infection. Since the condition is chronic, it tends to weaken your body’s ability to fight off another disease too. In other words, it means a weak immune system and losing hearing ability.
What are the different causes of Ear Infection?
While analyzing whether are ear infections contagious, it is vital to include the causes of the various types of ear infections and the specific risk factors associated with people of different age groups. Ultimately, it is all connected with Eustachian tubes and their role in causing the infection inside an individual’s ear.
Eustachian Tubes’s Role in causing the Infection
The Eustachian Tubes are connected to the back of the throat. So when we breathe, it tends to open and close and stimulate air pressure supply inside the ears’ walls. It then causes the removal of all the remaining normal secretion from the eardrums.
The Eustachian tube gets blocked when one suffers from a respiratory infection, leading to fluid or mucus inside the middle ear. If the sap gets infected due to a virus or bacteria, it will cause an ear infection. Due to the structure of the Eustachian Tubes being horizontal in kids, it makes them more prone to catching an ear infection.
Adenoids Causing Ear Infection
There are specific pad-like structures located at the back of the nasal cavity. They are structured in a way that causes them to react in case a bacteria or virus passes through the surface and proactively contributes to the immune system’s activity.
These structures are known as Adenoids. They are responsible for catching bacteria, too, at times. As a result, it would cause swelling of the Eustachian tube and the middle ear blocking the entrance and filling up the space with mucus. Hence ear infection takes place.
Risk Factors Associated with Ear Infection
To understand are ear infections contagious, we look into the risk factors and ear infection symptoms appropriately.
- Children between the ages of 6 months to 3 years are more vulnerable to ear infections. They have a different Eustachian tube structure than adults, and their immune system is still developing.
- When we speak of whether or not are ear infections contagious, it would be a definite yes in the case of children surviving in a group setting such as a child care group. They would contact cold and flu and other infections from some other kids while playing in the group.
- People prone to get infected from seasonal allergies affected by the common cold and even sinus infection suffer from an Ear infection.
- There are more ear infections if one lives in a locality or travels through places with poor air quality.
- Children who are fed from the bottle while lying down suffer from ear infections more often than adults.
Some Ear Infection Symptoms
- Pain in the year while lying down
- Sleep Disturbances
- Losing balance due to infected eardrums
- Children of young age would tend to cry more often
- Inability to hear correctly and a consistent tingling sound in the ear.
- Experiencing fever more than 100 degrees along with a cold (In children)
- Consistent feeling of loss of appetite and headache
- The infection causes draining of the entire fluid from the ear
How contagious are ear Infections?
Now, while we have discussed at length about ear infections once again, the question pops up; are ear infections contagious? As we spoke of in the entire blog, it would entirely depend on the infection one is experiencing. Most of the time, the inner ear infection would go away automatically once the illness disappeared.
However, the disease-causing infection could be contagious such as a cold and flu. People sit, walk and travel together all the time. Since COVID struck us hard, people have become more cautious of their health and maintain distance. Still, the air remains infected, and cold is more transmissible as a disease.
Some Ear Infection Treatment: When should you speak to an expert?
It is often easy for the doctor to figure out the disease as the symptoms are apparent for the expert to understand that an individual is suffering from an ear infection. To look closely inside the ear, an ENT specialist would use an otoscope or pneumatic otoscope to help them find fluids or trapped fluids in the eardrum. Other than this, a doctor could use devices like;
- Acoustic reflectometry, where an expert would bounce sounds against the eardrum. If the sound bounces back more, a good amount of fluid is built up inside the eardrum.
- Tympanometry is a device used by the doctor that seals off the pressure inside the ear canal and determines the eardrum’s movement. It helps in closely looking through the middle ear.
Often, ear infections would disappear on their own. But if it has turned severe, your doctor would recommend you some tests to diagnose the exact type of ear infection you are witnessing. Generally, ear infection tends to appear in small children between 6 months to 2 years of age. The AAP (American Academy of Family Physicians) has recommended that doctors observe these children for approximately 48 hours if they have an infection in one or both ears and fever higher than 102 degrees.
However, if the children are older than two years, antibiotic treatment and ear drops seem to work always if the infection is acute and not much contagious. There are ways to prevent ear infections repeatedly occurring in your child, such as:
- Make sure your child is adequately vaccinated for flu that could cause ear infections.
- Try not to smoke in front of your kid or infant as you expose them to dangerous tobacco smoke, making them more prone to ear infections and other diseases.
- Keep your child sit straight or in the upright position while feeding milk from the bottle.
- Try to keep your child away from other kids or people in the group who are already suffering from cold and flu. Also, if you have an older child, ask them to wash their hands after a few time intervals.
If the infection persists in a child or an adult where fluid from the year also discharges blood, do not hesitate to speak to an expert and take immediate care.
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