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How Long Are Ear Infections Contagious

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What Does The Eardrum Look Like When It Is Infected

Are ear infections contagious?

When a doctor examines the eardrum through the otoscope instrument, the eardrum normally appears as a thin gray, translucent membrane . When infected, it will look opacified , very reddened, and yellowish. Sometimes, it shows a small layer of pus-like material. During an infection, the eardrum usually becomes rigid because of the accumulation of fluid, and it will not wiggle when the doctor puffs a small amount of air against the eardrum with an otoscope. Use of tympanometry or acoustic reflectometry may help to determine if there is fluid behind the eardrum. Neither instrument distinguishes between infected or uninfected fluid.

From the appearance of the eardrum, the doctor cannot determine the type of bacteria, or whether bacteria or viruses are causing the infection. The eardrum in children with otitis media with effusion appears as an orangish or dull, straw-colored fluid, and it also does not move when air is applied to it.

What Are Other Causes Of Ear Pain

Other causes of ear pain include:

  • A sore throat.
  • Teeth coming in in a baby.
  • An infection of the lining of the ear canal. This is also called swimmers ear.
  • Pressure build up in the middle ear caused by allergies and colds.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/16/2020.

References

Medical Prevention For Chronic Or Frequent Ear Infections

If your child is having frequent ear infections, more aggressive prevention may be indicated. There are different opinions as to the definition of chronic ear infections. How many is too many?

  • More aggressive doctors may choose to begin medical prevention if your child has more than three ear infections in six months or more than four in one year.
  • Less aggressive doctors may allow your child to have more infections before recommending medical prevention We lean more in this direction.
  • Other factors such as hearing loss and speech delay may warrant more aggressive treatment.

There are three forms of medical prevention:

  • Prophylactic antibiotics. This consists of a once-a-day dose of amoxicillin or a similar antibiotic. There are several things to consider:
  • Daily treatment for several months continuously, such as through the winter season
  • Start the daily treatment at the first sign of any cold symptoms, and then continue the antibiotic for 7 10 days
  • Advantage of taking prophylactic antibiotics is that you avoid full-dose courses of possibly stronger antibiotics
  • Disadvantage is that your child is taking the antibiotic more often and this could contribute to antibiotic resistance
  • OUR PREFERENCE: Start the daily amoxicillin at the first sign of cold symptoms
  • Ear tubes. These are tiny tubes that an ENT specialist inserts into the eardrum under general anesthesia. They usually stay in place for 6 months to over a year. There are several purposes achieved by tubes:
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    What Limitations Are There On A Child With Middle Ear Infection Or Inflammation

    • Otitis media is not contagious .
    • A child with otitis media can travel by airplane but, if the Eustachian tube is not working well, the pressure change as the plane descends may cause the child pain.
    • It is best not to fly with a draining ear.
    • You should always consult your doctor if you have specific concerns.

    Risk Factors For Ear Infections

    Canine Eye Infection

    Ear infections occur most commonly in young children because they have short and narrow Eustachian tubes. About of children develop an acute ear infection at some point.

    Infants who are bottle-fed also have a higher incidence of ear infections than their breastfed counterparts.

    Other factors that increase the risk of developing an ear infection are:

    • altitude changes

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    How Are Ear Infections Treated

    Ear pain

    Here are some antidotes to help you get through the night:

    • or ibuprofen are effective pain relievers for ear pain. You can safely use both medications together if one alone is not enough. Click on each medication for the dosage.
    • Warm compression apply a warm washcloth to the ear.
    • Warm olive oil, vegetable oil, or garlic oil put several drops of one of these into the ear. MAKE SURE THE OIL ISNT TOO HOT.
    • Anesthetic eardrops if the above remedies arent enough, these are available by prescription and can numb the eardrum to minimize the pain for an hour or two.
    • WARNING if you see any liquid or pus draining out of the ear, DO NOT PUT ANY OF THE ABOVE DROPS INTO THE EAR. See below under ear drainage.

    Xylitol and ear infections

    Xylitol helps fight the bacteria causing the infections, much of which is in the nose.

    • Chewing gum sweetened with xylitol has been shown to reduce some chronic ear infections .
    • Xlear® is a nasal spray containing xylitol that was originally developed to prevent ear infections. Using it will help keep your childs nose clean and wash out many of the bacteria that cause these infections.

    Antibiotics

    A seven-day course is the current recommendation unless your doctor feels a longer course is indicated. The whole issue of antibiotics can be confusing to parents, so here are some general guidelines to help you:

    Avoid antibiotic resistance

    When to use a stronger antibiotic

    Ruptured eardrum

    Complications Associated With A Middle Ear Infection

    Complications from middle ear infections are extremely uncommon, but can occur, especially in very young children with a not yet fully developed immune system. These complications include:

    • Mastoiditis: When the infection spreads into the bones of the ear. Symptoms include fever, pain, tenderness, headache and a creamy discharge from the ear. This condition is treatable, but seeking medical attention early is important.
    • Cholesteatoma: A result of tissue build-up from recurrent instances of infection. If left untreated, the condition can cause serious damage. Treatment typically involves surgery.
    • Labyrinthitis: A condition that occurs when an infection in the middle ear spreads to the inner ear. Symptoms include dizziness, hearing loss, vertigo and loss of balance. It is treatable.
    • Other complications: Other possible complications include facial paralysis, meningitis and brain abscess, but these conditions are extremely rare.

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    What Research Is Being Done On Middle Ear Infections

    Researchers sponsored by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders are exploring many areas to improve the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of middle ear infections. For example, finding better ways to predict which children are at higher risk of developing an ear infection could lead to successful prevention tactics.

    Another area that needs exploration is why some children have more ear infections than others. For example, Native American and Hispanic children have more infections than do children in other ethnic groups. What kinds of preventive measures could be taken to lower the risks?

    Doctors also are beginning to learn more about what happens in the ears of children who have recurring ear infections. They have identified colonies of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, called biofilms, that are present in the middle ears of most children with chronic ear infections. Understanding how to attack and kill these biofilms would be one way to successfully treat chronic ear infections and avoid surgery.

    Understanding the impact that ear infections have on a childs speech and language development is another important area of study. Creating more accurate methods to diagnose middle ear infections would help doctors prescribe more targeted treatments. Researchers also are evaluating drugs currently being used to treat ear infections, and developing new, more effective and easier ways to administer medicines.

    Cause Of Ear Infections

    Ear Infections
    • A bacterial infection of the middle ear
    • Blocked eustachian tube, usually as part of a common cold. The eustachian tube joins the middle ear to the back of the throat.
    • Blockage results in middle ear fluid .
    • If the fluid becomes infected , the fluid turns to pus. This causes the eardrum to bulge out and can cause a lot of pain.
    • Ear infections peak at age 6 months to 2 years. They are a common problem until age 8.
    • The onset of ear infections is often on day 3 of a cold.
    • How often do kids get ear infections? 90% of children have at least 1 ear infection. Frequent ear infections occur in 20% of children. Ear infections are the most common bacterial infection of young children.

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    Questions To Ask Your Doctor

    • How can I keep my child comfortable at night with the pain of an ear infection?
    • Is there drainage with an ear infection?
    • What is the difference between an ear infection and swimmers ear?
    • Is my child a candidate for ear tubes?
    • What are the risks and benefits of surgically inserting tubes inside my childs middle ear?
    • Should my child get regular hearing tests if they have frequent ear infections?

    Sore Throats And Babies

    Most sore throats in babies are caused by common viruses, such as a cold. Babies rarely have strep throat. If strep bacteria are present, infants usually dont need antibiotic treatment.

    According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in most cases, the baby will be better in a few days.

    If you or another family member has a viral or bacterial infection, it can be passed on to a child or baby via contact. Good hygiene practices are essential to prevent passing on an infection.

    Viral and bacterial infections are easily spread, so its important for you and your family to take precautions, especially if someone is sick.

    Here are some of the essential practices:

    Most sore throats clear up on their own in a few days. But there are simple remedies you can use to make your throat feel better.

    Try these home remedies to soothe a sore throat:

    • Stay hydrated.
    • Gargle with 8 ounces of warm water mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. For children over 8 years old, use 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
    • Drink warm fluids, such as soup or tea. Try tea with honey, which is soothing for the throat. Chamomile tea can also soothe your throat.
    • Try inhaling steam from chamomile tea.
    • Use a humidifier if the air is dry.
    • Suck on an ice cube, hard candy, or lozenge.
    • Give your child cold or soft foods, like ice cream, pudding, or milkshakes.

    If sore throat pain persists, or if you have a fever, you can try over-the-counter medications. These include:

    • acetaminophen
    • ibuprofen
    • aspirin

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    Causes Of A Middle Ear Infection

    Middle ear infections are caused by viruses and bacteria, often resulting from other conditions that can cause blockage and swelling of the eustachian tubes that connect the throat and the middle ear. When this happens, a vacuum is created, allowing germs and fluid from the throat to enter the middle ear. A middle ear infection develops when bacteria or viruses grow in this fluid.

    Children are more susceptible to middle ear infections than adults, partly because their eustachian tubes are narrower, so they are more easily blocked. Children also have relatively larger adenoids than adults. These are masses of tissue situated at the point where the nose bends into the throat that are vulnerable to infection, swelling and inflammation ââ¬â when this happens, they can block the eustachian tubes and cause a middle ear infection.

    Main Symptoms Of Ear Infections In Children

    Are Ear Infections In Adults Contagious

    Your child may have 2 or more of these symptoms:

  • Cold symptoms keep in mind that ear infections are almost always preceded by a cold. Often a clear runny nose will turn yellow or green before an ear infection sets in.
  • Fussiness during the day or night
  • Complaining of ear pain or hearing loss
  • Night-waking more frequently
  • Fever usually low grade may not have a fever
  • Sudden increase in fussiness during a cold
  • Ear drainage if you see blood or pus draining out of the ear, then it is probably an infection with a ruptured eardrum. DONT WORRY! These almost always heal just fine, and once the eardrum ruptures the pain subsides.
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    Is It A Bacterial Infection Or Virus

    Bacterial infections are caused by bacteria, while viral infections are caused by viruses. That’s the easy part. Differentiating between the two requires medical intervention since both may cause fever and irritability. And the treatments vary significantly. Pediatrician Betty Staples, MD, offers advice on how to tell the difference between these two types of infection.

    Every day, parents bring their children to the pediatrician for help in determining whether their sick child has “just a cold” or something more.

    Children’s colds result in 22 million missed school days and 20 million parental missed days of work every year. In most cases, these are the “just a cold” variety of virus. However, we also know that other, less common infections can develop in our children, and these need evaluation by the pediatrician to determine if antibiotics are required.

    Are There Any Home Remedies For Acute Middle Ear Infection

    However, there are limited studies suggesting the benefits of these measures over accepted and recommended treatments.

    • Both oral and topical analgesics are effective in controlling the pain associated with ear infections, but the use of decongestants or antihistamines has not been demonstrated to improve symptoms or speed the resolution of acute otitis media.

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    What Is Middle Ear Infection Or Inflammation

    Middle ear inflammation is also called otitis media. Otitis media is inflammation of the middle ear however, many doctors consider otitis media to be either inflammation or infection of the middle ear, the area inside the eardrum . “Otitis” means inflammation of the ear, and “media” means middle. This inflammation often begins with infections that cause sore throats, colds, or other respiratory problems, and spreads to the middle ear. Infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria, and can be acute or chronic. Both ears can be infected at the same time . These infections are not “swimmer’s ear” , but not beyond. However, some people can have swimmer’s ear and a middle ear infection at the same time.

    Acute middle ear infections usually are of rapid onset and short duration. They typically are associated with fluid accumulation in the middle ear, signs or symptoms of infections in the ear, a bulging eardrum usually accompanied by pain or a perforated eardrum, and drainage of purulent material . The person also may have a fever.

    When To Contact A Doctor For An Ear Infection

    What causes ear infections in children?

    If you think you are experiencing ear infection symptoms and the symptoms last longer than one or two days, you should consult with a doctor. Sometimes ear infections do resolve on their own after a couple of days, but if the pain worsens or lingers, you should seek medical attention.

    Additionally, if you have fluid draining from your ear, your hearing is impaired by any of the symptoms of ear infections, or if you suspect you have an inner ear infection, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.

    If properly treated, ear infections will not lead to any other complications. If left untreated your ear infection can, in rare cases, pose more serious health issues, including:

    • Mastoiditis a rare inflammation of a bone that is adjacent to the ear.
    • Hearing loss
    • Eardrum perforation
    • Facial nerve paralysis
    • Menieres disease a disease that manifests as symptoms of vertigo, hearing loss, pressure in the ears and ringing in the ears.

    Letting an ear infection go on without treatment can lead to permanent hearing loss and possible spread of the infection to other parts of your head. If you suspect you might have an ear infection, consult with an online doctor today to get the treatment you need as soon as possible.

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    Complications And Emergency Symptoms

    If an outer ear infection goes untreated and doesnt heal on its own, it can result in several complications.

    Abscesses can develop around the affected area within the ear. These may heal on their own, or your doctor may need to drain them.

    Long-term outer ear infections can cause narrowing of the ear canal. Narrowing can affect the hearing and, in extreme cases, cause deafness. It needs to be treated with antibiotics.

    Ruptured or perforated eardrums can also be a complication of outer ear infections caused by items inserted into the ear. This can be extremely painful. Symptoms include temporary hearing loss, ringing or buzzing in the ears, discharge, and bleeding from the ear.

    In rare cases, necrotizing otitis externa occurs. This is an extremely serious complication where the infection spreads to the cartilage and bone that surrounds your ear canal.

    Adults with weakened immune systems are most at risk. Untreated, it can be fatal. This is considered a medical emergency, with symptoms including:

    • severe ear pain and headaches, especially at night
    • ongoing ear discharge

    Cold And Allergy Remedies

    Recent research has questioned the general safety of cough and cold products for children. They are currently banned for use in children under age 4 years. The American College of Chest Physicians recommends against the use of nonprescription cough and cold medicines in children age 14 years and younger.

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    Symptoms Of Acute Otitis Media

    Ear pain is the most common symptom of ear infections. The ear pain associated with acute otitis media usually comes on very suddenly.

    Babies and young children who haven’t yet learned to speak may express ear pain in various ways including:

    • Pulling, tugging, rubbing, or holding the ear
    • Excessive crying, especially when feeding
    • Irritability, fussiness, and other changes in behavior
    • Difficulty sleeping

    Other symptoms associated with ear infections include:

    • Fluid discharge from ear
    • Fever
    • Cold symptoms such as nasal congestion, runny nose, or coughing

    If the ear infection is severe, the tympanic membrane may rupture, causing the pus to drain from the ear. Pus in the ear may cause hearing loss in some children.

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