What is an Ear Infection?
The human ear consists of three parts i.e. outer ear, middle ear and inner ear.
Middle ear sits behind the eardrum. Ear infection, called as “otitis media” , is an infection of a middle ear and it is the most common ear infection.
Bacteria and Virus cause it. Eustachian tube connects the middle ear and nose and it helps in draining the extra fluid coming from the middle ear.
In a person with cold, it impedes the drainage of fluid and can put pressure on eardrum that in turn causes pain, fever and irritation which eventually leads to infection.
This ear infection can happen to adults and kids. This type of infection is the most common cause of doctor visits especially with the kids. This leads to the question whether the middle ear infection is contagious or not. For anyone going through this condition must be wondering this, keep on reading further to know.
Is it Contagious?
No, ear infections are not contagious. As the ear infections are caused by bacteria and viruses so any bacterial or viral disease can be contagious and it cause an ear infection.
There are three types of ear infections affecting different parts of the ear.
The infection of external ear is called as “Swimmer’s ear”. This infection can cause pain and swelling in the outer ear. It can also lead to the accumulation of pus in the ear canal.
The infection of inner ear is called as “Labyrinthitis” and it can be caused by the cold or flu. The bacterial or viral cold and flu can lead to the entry of microbes in the inner ear and cause infection.
Similarly, the infection of middle is called as “Otitis media” as described earlier, is caused by the bacterial or viral flu.
In addition to the drainage of fluid from middle ear, Eustachian tube also drains the fluid from sinuses to avoid the ear infections.
The ear infections itself are not contagious but the bacteria and viruses from other infections can cause ear infections. 90% of the kids from ages of 6 months to 5 years do suffer from some kind of ear infection.
Causes and Diagnosis of Ear Infection?
Now that we know that ear infections itself are not contagious let’s dive into the causes of these infections. Ear infections are the most common childhood illnesses that are mainly caused by bacteria and viruses.
One other cause of developing an ear infection can be allergies. The allergy to certain foods, pollens etc. can be a reason to develop it. Also the exposure to smoke can be a cause of it.
A healthcare professional in person can make the diagnosis of an ear infection. No virtual diagnosis can be done in this regard. Patient does not need to go to the emergency. While waiting for a physician to do a detailed examination of the ear, acetaminophen can be given for pain relief.
The doctor will examine the patient’s ear by using a flashlight called as otoscope. He will examine the movement of the eardrum by blowing into the ear. If the movement of eardrum appears to be normal it indicates no infection and in the other case if the ear doesn’t move normally it can be due to the accumulated fluid across the ear drum. That fluid makes it harder for the eardrum to move and it indicates the infection.
For the patients with chronic issue of pain in the ear some other tests such as tests of hearing can also be done. Generally, the infants and children are more susceptible to these infections.
What are the Symptoms?
There are certain signs and symptoms of these ear infections. These symptoms help detect the infection such as,
- Pain in the ear
- Pressure in the ear
- Swelling and redness in the outer ear
- Tinnitis (ringing in the ears)
- Discharge from the ear canal
- Reduced hearing
- Loss of balance
- Pulling or tugging the ear
- Scaly skin around the ear
Most of the ear infections clear up in 3 days but some infections can last for up to a week. During this period pain relieving medicines are the key for the ear pain.
Management of Ear Infection:
After examining through otoscope if there is an infection your healthcare provider will decide a treatment plan. Following are the treatment approches for this kind of infection,
As most of these infections get better on their own within 3 days it doesn’t require any medication.
The symptoms are monitored for over a week period or 3 days and that is called watchful waiting.
Discuss this option with your doctor prior to waiting. Your healthcare giver should tell you to watch symptoms for a specified time and this approach reduces the unnecessary use of antibiotics. During this waiting period, for pain use the pain-killers.
If the pain persists during the waiting period or during the course of antibiotics treatment the doctor should give you the anti-inflammatory drugs such as Ibuprofen or naproxen etc.
These medications do not help to treat the infection. These just relieve the symptoms of Swelling and ear pain.
Use of Antibiotics:
If your doctor suggests that watchful waiting is not an option for you, he might prescribe you with antibiotic medications.
What does Antibiotics do?
Antibiotics fight with the disease causing bacteria and help getting rid of the infection. The antibiotic used for this ear infection is amoxicillin. It is in the drops form. Physicians usually prescribe it for 5 days or 10 days depending upon the severity of the infection. We do not encourage self-medication. Antibiotics should be started after consultation with the registered medical practitioner. A single dose of the antibiotics is not really useful. If the symptoms of the patient doesn’t go away after 48 hours you should go for a recheck.
For complicated ear infections surgery is the option. One must consult an adept ear surgeon in this regard.
What are the Preventive Measures?
Although ear infections are very common. Taking preventive measures can reduce them. Ear infections do not spread from person to person but still it can spread by exposure to bacteria or viruses. So, in order to prevent this from happening,
- Tell kids to cover their mouths while coughing or sneezing
- Ask kids to throw away the tissues after using it once.
- Do not put toys in mouth.
- Wash and disinfect the play areas of kids.
- Teach the kids to wash their hands frequently.
- Do not share the utensils of people who are sick.
- Flu vaccination.
- Stay at home if you have fever.
- Try not to touch your nose and eyes.
Despite taking all these preventive measures if you still catch an ear infection go to the doctor for an exam.
DISCLAIMER: The purpose of this piece of writing is not to promote the self-medication but to spread the awareness about the ear infection and if it is contagious or not. We do not take any responsibility for self-medication.
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