ear infection – also known as otitis media— is a middle ear infection, the air-filled space behind the eardrum. Acute otitis media is a rapidly developing ear infection. Ear infections are usually caused by viruses, bacteria, a combination of viruses and bacteria, or allergies.
Ear infections are not contagious, but colds, sore throats, and respiratory infections are often. Most ear infections are easy to treat, but if symptoms become severe or accompanied by a fever, you may need medical attention.
Ear infections are most common in children, with more than 80% of children having ear infections by age 3. But they can also occur in adults.
This article will discuss the causes of ear infections, whether ear infections are contagious, symptoms, and treatment.
Ear infections are usually caused by viral and bacterial infections. Some viruses that commonly cause ear infections are the cold virus and the flu virus (flu). Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a virus that affects the lungs and, like other respiratory viruses, can cause bacterial ear infections.
The most common bacterial cause of ear infections is Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae. These bacteria are usually found in the nose and throat and do not cause disease.
Ear infections are also sometimes a byproduct of allergies, in which the immune system reacts to normally harmless substances. These include allergies to environmental factors such as tree pollen, dust and pet dander.
The link between viruses, bacteria, allergies, and ear infections is that they cause nasal congestion and inflammation that extends from the nose to the ears. Eustachian tube. These tubes (one in each ear) connect the back of the throat to the middle ear. They help keep pressure and normally secreted fluids from building up in your ears.
When the Eustachian tubes are inflated, they allow less ventilation and more fluid and bacteria to build up. This can cause ear infections.
Children are more prone to ear infections than adults because their Eustachian tubes are shorter and less sloping, which makes them more likely to become blocked and blocked. This moist, dark environment is usually ideal for infestations to grow and grow.
Adenoids — structures at the back of the throat — are larger in children than adults and can block the Eustachian tube.
Because of their immature immune systems, children are also prone to more colds and other infections that can lead to ear infections.
Ear infection symptoms include:
- ear pain (one or both ears)
- Drain fluid from the ear
- muffled hearing
- sore throat
- balance problems (rarely)
Young babies can’t tell you they have earaches, so watch for the following signs:
- pulling one or both ears
- hearing changes (for example, no response when you call their name)
- balance problem
- fluid coming out of the ear
Some people are at higher risk for ear infections than others. They include:
- Infants or toddlers: Children 6 to 12 months old are most at risk of ear infections. By age 5, many children are free of the tendency to get ear infections.
- Children attending daycare
- people with allergies
- person exposed to cigarette smoke
- People with a family history of ear infections
Are ear infections contagious?
You can’t “get” ear infections, but you can get viruses that can trigger them. For example, viruses like the common cold and flu are spread when you inhale virus-laden droplets that are spread by an infected person coughing or sneezing. You can also get infected by touching surfaces where those droplets land.
The most common bacteria in ear infections are usually found in the respiratory tract, so they are not contagious in the usual sense. Instead, people get them throughout their lives, and they only cause ear infections in some cases, such as a blocked Eustachian tube.
It is important to be evaluated by your doctor for an ear infection. For example, repeated ear infections in children can lead to hearing loss and delayed speech. Treatment for ear infections depends on the severity of the infection, how long it lasts, and a person’s age.
Because many ear infections improve within days without intervention, and because of antibiotic resistance (bacteria becoming “resistant” to the drugs used to fight them) worldwide, some doctors are prescribing Take a wait-and-see approach before antibiotics.
This is especially true if the pain is mild and lasts no more than three days. Of children with ear infections, 80 percent get better without antibiotics, and they are less likely to develop serious disease.
One exception is that babies (under 6 months) who are diagnosed with ear infections are usually treated with antibiotics right away. Bacteria caused by ear infections in young babies can spread to other parts of the body, with serious consequences.
For pain relief and fever control, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter medication such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) or Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen). Get your doctor’s advice before using these; for example, ibuprofen should not be given to babies under 6 months of age.
However, if the pain is severe at first or gets worse after a few days, your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic such as moxastat or amoxicillin (amoxicillin).
Ear tubes are small cylindrical tubes that are surgically inserted into the eardrum to help drain fluid and stabilize air pressure. They are the choice of some children. Adults can also receive ear tubes, but they are less common.
They are usually recommended for children with recurrent ear infections (defined as 3 months or more over 6 months), fluid in the ear for several months and/or a collapsed eardrum. As your child’s ear grows, the tube usually falls off naturally within 18 months of insertion.
To prevent ear infections, you need to prevent the infections that cause ear infections. Measures include:
- Try to avoid people who cough or sneeze.
- Wash your hands frequently (for a full 20 seconds).
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands (viruses like to enter your body through these moist areas).
- Vaccinations against viruses and bacteria such as the flu, COVID-19, and Streptococcus pneumoniae. Make sure your child is getting vaccinated too.
- Do not smoke and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
- Breastfeed your baby for at least six months. Breast milk contains antibodies that fight infection.
- Do not let your baby lie down while feeding. Drinking alcohol while prone can increase the likelihood of ear infections.
Ear infections are common, especially in children. They are usually caused by viruses, bacteria and (in some cases) allergies. Most ear infections resolve on their own or can be treated with short-term antibiotics. Pain associated with an ear infection can be treated with pain relievers.
In rare cases, an untreated ear infection can lead to hearing loss and/or a more widespread infection. Consult your healthcare provider if you suspect an ear infection. They can best advise you on any possible treatment.
While ear infections can be uncomfortable and (in extreme cases) cause hearing loss, they are usually not serious. Most people respond well to watchful waiting or treatment such as antibiotics or ear tube surgery when needed. To avoid ear infections, treat your allergies and do your best to avoid viruses and bacteria.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you know if an ear infection is viral or bacterial?
Without culturing the fluid behind the eardrum, there is no sure-fire way to determine whether an infection is caused by a virus or bacteria. However, most ear infections are viral.
Some red flags that an infection may be bacterial include:
- Ear infections that last longer than they should (most get better within a few days)
- Fever, especially if it gets worse
How long do ear infections last?
Even without antibiotic treatment, most ear infections improve within a few days. If symptoms do not improve or even worsen, contact your doctor.
Can ear infections be treated without antibiotics?
Many ear infections get better within a few days without antibiotic treatment. That’s why many doctors recommend a “watchful waiting” strategy before prescribing antibiotics.