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Are Ear Infections Contagious? 5 Things to Know About Spreading the Virus

Are ear infections contagious? Explore what causes ear infections to spread and how long you can be contagious with an ear infection.


What Causes Ear Infections and Are Ear Infections Contagious?


First things first, ear infections are NOT contagious. Instead, they’re caused by bacteria or a virus resulting from another sickness like a cold, flu, or allergy. These illnesses cause congestion and swelling of the nasal passages, throat, and eustachian tubes — also known as the ear canal.

So, while the answer to the question “are ear infections contagious” is no, the bacteria and viruses that cause ear infections are. For example, colds and the flu can spread through coughing and sneezing, releasing the germs into the air or on surfaces.

Signs and Symptoms of Ear Infections


The main sign of ear infections is ear pain. Other symptoms include a fever, and trouble eating, drinking, or sleeping. In addition, kids might have difficulty chewing, sucking, or lying down because of the pressure changes in the middle ear.

It can be hard to tell whether young kids have an ear infection because they can’t directly tell you their experiencing ear pain. So, you might notice a younger child tugging at their ear, being fussy, or crying more than usual.

Major Risk Factors of Ear Infections


Young kids are generally more at risk for ear infections than adults. Children between 6 months and 2 years old are more susceptible to ear infections because the size and shape of their eustachian tubes are narrower and more horizontal. Because of this, the ear canal is more difficult to drain and can become clogged easier, leading to infections. These young kids are also more at risk because their immune systems are still developing, making it difficult to fight off a virus or bacteria.

Kids in daycares are also at higher risk of catching a cold that can lead to ear infections because they’re exposed to more bacteria and germs than children who stay home.

In addition, infants who breastfeed are at less risk than those who bottle feed or lay down while they drink from the bottle. Infants’ ear canal is more horizontal than adults, so while they drink from a bottle lying down, the milk could drain into the ear canal. The New York State Department of Health notes that children under 2 years old should not lie flat while drinking from a bottle.

Seasonal factors play into the rise and fall of ear infections, as it’s most common to come down with an ear infection in the winter and fall. In addition, when pollen counts are higher and seasonal allergies are more prevalent, people are at a higher risk of contracting an ear infection.

Poor air quality can increase your risk for ear infections. That includes secondhand smoke and air pollution.

Children with cleft palates have a higher risk of developing an ear infection. This is because the differences in their bone structure and muscles make it more difficult for their eustachian tube to drain, allowing bacteria to sit in it and eventually become infected.

 How Long Are You Contagious With An Ear Infection?


There is no direct answer to how long you are contagious with an ear infection because they’re not contagious. Instead, the viruses and bacteria that cause them are. The length of time for spreading the virus or bacteria varies, though. As for a common cold, most people are contagious for up to two weeks, and it can take a day or two before you have symptoms. You’re most contagious when your symptoms are the most severe, typically the first three days you feel sick.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that it typically takes two days to show symptoms after exposure to the flu. During that time, you’re already capable of infecting others. The flu is considered a highly contagious disease by the CDC.  

How To Protect Yourself From Ear Infections


Preventing ear infections is like preventing most virus infections. You should wash your hands thoroughly and often, cover your mouth when coughing, cover your nose when sneezing, and don’t share utensils if you or someone else is not feeling well. It’s especially important for daycares and schools to follow these steps as kids are more susceptible to coming down with an ear infection.

Other ways to protect yourself from developing an ear infection are avoiding smoking or breathing in secondhand smoke. You can also get vaccinated against the flu and other viruses. Doing so will help you stay healthy and keep from catching some of the bugs  that can cause an ear infection. Remember, it’s not that ear infections are contagious, but the viruses and bacteria that cause them.

Doctors recommend that if you’ve been running a fever, you stay home for at least 24 hours AFTER your fever goes away without medication. Staying home will help stop the spread of nasty viruses and bacteria that technically allow you to make a case that ear infections are contagious.

When To See A Provider


While the answer is no to ‘are ear infections contagious?’, it’s still important to see a healthcare provider if you or your child is experiencing any symptoms of one. They will evaluate you and help with a treatment plan.  

Trying to make an appointment that fits your schedule and your provider’s is difficult.   So instead, visit a family urgent care, like American Family Care. No appointment is needed. Our medical providers will help you find a solution for your pain and send you on your way.

Can’t miss work? Don’t worry. Our locations have extended hours to work with your schedule. We’re even open on the weekends. Find treatment by finding an American Family Care near you.

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