Is An Ear Infection Contagious?

September 14, 2023

Is An Ear Infection Contagious?

At Childhealthy, we see many children with ear infections and are frequently asked by concerned parents; ‘are ear infections contagious?’. To put your mind at rest we answer this and other common questions about ear infections below.

a paediatric ENT assessing a child's ear

What is an ear infection?

An ear infection occurs due to inflammation in the ear, caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Most commonly in children, it is the middle part of the ear that is affected and the medical term for a middle ear infection is acute otitis media. The middle of the ear connects the back of the nose to the throat. Once inflamed, it can lead to many symptoms, described below, causing your child to feel unwell.

Ear infections are very common, particularly in young children and babies. There are two reasons why babies and children are more prone to ear infections than adults. Not only are their immune systems less mature and less able to deal with the infection, but the developing anatomy of the inner ear and ear canal in this age group makes infections easier to develop. The good news is that most cases will clear up within a few days without the need for treatment as they are caused by viral infections, similar to viruses that cause colds and coughs.

Is an ear infection contagious?

To answer the question, no, an ear infection itself is not contagious. However, bacterial and viral infections that cause ear infections can be transmitted from one person to another. To better understand which ear infections are triggered by bacterial and viral infections, we have included the different types of ear infections below:

External ear infection (Otitis Externa)

This type of ear infection causes inflammation of the external ear canal. It is often referred to as “swimmer’s ear”, as exposure to water can enhance the inflammation of this area.


Labyrinthitis is caused by an infection which leads to inflammation of the inner ear, called the labyrinth.

Middle ear infection (Otitis Media)

Also known as Otitis Media, describes inflammation and fluid behind the eardrum. Middle ear infections are usually the type that is triggered by viral and bacterial infections. This type of ear infection is most common in young children and will often recover without treatment. However, getting the correct medical guidance is very important.

Ear infection causes

The cause of an ear infection can vary, and there are several reasons why your child may develop one in the first place. Usually, an ear infection is caused by swelling in one – or both of the eustachian tubes. These tubes connect the middle of the ear to the back of the throat. Once they are swollen, it is a lot more difficult for fluid to drain from the ear, leading to an infection.

If your child experiences an illness such as a cold or throat infection, this can lead to swelling of the eustachian tubes. Acid reflux, allergies, and fluid build-up can also significantly contribute to this. All of these causes accelerate the production of mucus in the ear. As mucus builds up and struggles to drain from the ear, it gathers in the middle part of the ear, leading to common symptoms such as earache.

Ear infection symptoms

Symptoms related to an ear infection usually appear fairly quickly. These include:

  • High temperature
  • Pain inside the ear canal
  • Sickness
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Itching and irritation both in and around the ear, along with occasional discharge running out of the ear
  • A feeling of pressure inside the ear

There are also some signs your child may display if they are suffering from an ear infection. Ear pulling and unawareness of certain sounds could signify your child has an ear infection.

How long does an ear infection last?

Parents can seek comfort knowing that most ear infections will go away on their own. You will notice symptoms subside after around 2-3 days. Pain relief is very important and in some cases antibiotics may be needed. However, this is not always the case, so it is always best to seek assistance from a GP or paediatrician.

If your child’s symptoms do not subside after three days, and they are exhibiting symptoms such as a high temperature and discharge from the ear canal, we advise that you consult a medical professional. Your child may be referred to a paediatric ENT specialist if necessary. Severe infections and repeated ear infections can lead to further complications if left untreated.

How to treat an ear infection

There are several methods you can use to treat your child’s ear infection:

  • Cold or warm compress: Place a warm or cold flannel on the ear can soothe inflammation – while clearing away discharge with cotton wool can alleviate discomfort.
  • Exercise the neck: Gently rotate the neck to relieve pressure in the ear canal.
  • Sleep: Encourage your child to sleep on the opposite side of the affected ear to relieve pressure.

If you acquire help from a GP or paediatrician, medication can be prescribed if the symptoms worsen – or if your child suffers from chronic ear infections. Below are the different treatment options across various age ranges.

  • Newborns (0-2 months): Typically receive antibiotics as they are not fully vaccinated and are more likely to develop complications.
  • Babies (0-1 year): Most babies will be monitored for 2-3 days to see if the infection goes away on its own. If not, your child’s GP may prescribe antibiotics.
  • Toddler (1-3 years): Treatment is not required if the infection clears on its own. Pain and discomfort can be treated using over-the-counter medications, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Please note, you should always follow dosing instructions on medication bottles and check with your pharmacist or doctor if you are uncertain how much medicine to use and for how long.
  • Children (3+): Treatment is often not required if the infection clears on its own. Most symptoms can be treated using over-the-counter pain relief medications, although in some cases antibiotics may be required.

How to prevent an ear infection

  • Ensure your child is up to date with their immunisations.
  • Keep your child away from second-hand smoke.
  • Ensure that you both wash your hands often to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria.
  • Keep your child’s ears as dry as possible, and thoroughly dry them after showering or swimming.
  • Do not try to remove ear wax or insert anything into the inner ear.

If you are concerned your child has an ear infection or would like to know more about ear infection prevention and treatment, don’t hesitate to contact Childhealthy today. Our team of friendly paediatricians are on hand to offer advice and guidance to help you deal with these issues effectively.





Disclaimer: Information contained in this article is intended as general advice and does not replace a medical assessment. If you are concerned about your child please contact your doctor for advice.


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