One of the worst parts of getting an infection or a disease is the fear of unintentionally passing it on to our loved ones. It can be heartbreaking to learn that we are the cause of our loved ones suffering due to an ailment.
This is why it’s crucial that we learn whether any infection we have contracted is contagious or not. This can help keep others around us safe and reduce the infection's spread.
However, it is to be noted that even when a particular infection may not be contagious, the underlying cause of the infection may be contagious. Therefore, it is essential to do due research whenever you have contracted any infection.
In this article, we discuss ear infections and whether they are contagious.
What are ear infections?
Ear infections are minor bacterial and viral infections that occur in the ears. They occur rarely among adults and are more common among children. They generally occur accompanied by other bacterial or viral infections.
The most common symptom of ear infection is pain in the ears. The pain can be intense depending on the severity of the infection. It can be challenging to deal with. Feeling pressure inside your ears, dull aches in the outer part of your ear, itchiness, and inflammation are other indicators of an ear infection.
Ear infections, in many instances, occur during or right after other contagious infections like the common cold. This can make ear infections seem like seasonal illnesses as their frequency of occurrence increases with the flu.
In most cases, ear infections are mild and clear up without medical intervention. In severe cases of infection, however, they might require medical attention. It is advisable to consult a healthcare provider to understand the severity of the infection before resorting to medication.
What are the different types of ear infections? How are they caused?
Ear infections are caused due to bacterial and viral infections behind the eardrums in the ears. The infection can apply pressure on the eardrums leading to pain. This leads to further inflammation and fluid build-up in the ears and can lead to more pain.
There are primarily three types of ear infections:
i). Otitis Media:
Otitis Media is an infection of the middle ear. The middle ear has open spaces with small bones that vibrate to give us a sense of sound. They are crucial in our ability to hear anything and have open cavities to let the sound come in and vibrate.
When having a viral or bacterial infection in other parts of the ENT (Ear-Nose-Throat) canal, such as the flu, infected mucus can seep into the ear canals, causing a middle ear infection.
ii). Otitis Externa:
Otitis Externa is the infection of the external part of the ear. It is also commonly referred to as the swimmer’s ear. It occurs due to infected fluid residue trapped in the external ear folds.
Such infection can lead to painful swellings in the external ears and, in some cases, can lead to pus build-up. This can lead to pain in the ear canal, especially in the area of the swelling.
Labyrinthitis is the infection of the inner ear chambers, also known as the labyrinth. It is technically not an infection in itself but inflammation caused due to other infections.
Inflammation can occur in the inner ears due to infection in other parts of the ENT, like the common cold in the respiratory tract. This can sometimes cause fluid build-up inside the ear canal, resulting in pain and difficulty while hearing.
Are ear infections contagious?
The short answer is no; ear infections are not contagious. However, this doesn’t mean that there is absolutely no risk of being in contact with a person having an ear infection.
While ear infections may not be contagious, the underlying viral and bacterial infections that led to ear infections are most likely contagious. Some of the most common infections that lead to ear infections, like the common cold, flu, influenza, and the flu, are all contagious diseases.
Influenza, in particular, is highly contagious as it can spread from the tiniest droplets of body fluid making contact with a healthy person.
Due diligence must be taken as ear infections mostly occur in children, and the underlying infections can be easily transmitted to other children who have equally weaker immunity systems.
Trying to keep your child isolated for a few days and offering them health care can help spread the infection to other children.
If you have multiple children, it is essential to restrict the contact between the healthy siblings and the infected ones. Keeping objects around and used by the infected child clean is also advisable.
If you are an adult with an ear infection, the need to isolate might be lesser as the chances of passing it on to other adults are very low. However, if you have children or could come in contact with them, it is extremely important to limit contact.
If infected, it is essential to be careful in contacting other vulnerable people, like children, and people with immunity disorders, as the underlying infection can be quickly passed on to them. Infected people can take preventive measures like wearing face masks and sanitizers and limiting close physical contact.
Some measures to prevent the spread of ear infections
Ear infections and the underlying viral and bacterial and viral infections can be prevented by taking a few preventive measures:
a. Use face masks:
If infected, you can opt to wear a face mask, as this dramatically reduces the possibility of spreading the underlying infection further.
b. Use sanitizers:
Using hand sanitizers can help prevent both spreading and contracting the underlying infection.
Getting vaccinated for seasonal flu and related ailments can help significantly reduce the possibility of contracting the underlying infection and, subsequently, the ear infection.
d. Stay home:
If possible, staying home when infected can prevent the infection's further spread. It is especially vital to stay home for a day, followed by getting a cure for the infection, as this is when the body ejects the infecting virus and bacteria.
e. Clean living surfaces:
Keeping joint living surfaces clean and disinfected can prevent the spread of viral and bacterial infections. This also helps prevent the spread of several other infections.
Suffering from an infection can be a bad experience, but what’s worse is infecting our loved ones with the same infection and watching them in discomfort. It is important to develop empathy towards other people in your community and take active steps to ensure you don’t pass on your ailments to others.
However, the steps required to do so might not always be feasible. This could be due to our living and employment situation. In such cases, take active care to avoid contact with those most vulnerable to the ailment you are suffering from.
Taking such active steps can help restrict the spread of diseases and protect a large part of society. Take steps to safeguard your family, friends, and community.
Q1: Are ear infections seasonal?
Ans: Ear infections are not seasonal. However, the underlying conditions that cause ear infections, like the flu, are seasonal. This can make ear infections among children appear to be a seasonal ailment.
Q2: Can adults get ear infections?
Ans: Ear infections among adults are rare. However, they can still occur in rare cases. If you notice the signs of ear infection developing, consult a doctor. It is especially important to be wary if the infection occurs with another ailment like the cold.
Ear infections occur more commonly among children as their immune systems are still developing, and they are more prone to be in contact with other infected persons.
Q3: What are the different types of ear infections?
Ans: There are three types of ear infections, Otitis media which occurs in the middle ear, Otitis externa, which occurs in the exterior of the ear; and Labyrinthitis, which occurs in the inner ear.
Q4: How long do ear infections last?
Ans: Ear infections are short-lived aftermath of other viral and bacterial infections. Typically, they resolve on their own in a span of 3 days. Some external ear infections might take longer and may be resolved in 2 weeks. Any infections that last longer than 4-6 weeks require immediate medical attention, so the best course of action can be determined by the doctor.
Q5: Is it necessary to stay indoors when having an ear infection?
Ans: It is not absolutely necessary as the chance of spreading it is low, especially to other adults. However, there is a risk of spreading the underlying infection that causes ear infections. Therefore, it is advisable to be careful about your contact with others, especially vulnerable groups like children, old people, and people with immunity disorders.