Are Ear Infections Contagious? Causes & Prevention Tips

“Are ear infections contagious?”  This is a common question asked by concerned parents everyday. In this post, we’ll explore the factors that lead to ear infections, and the various forms of ear infections such as otitis media (middle ear infection) and otitis extern (swimmer’s ear), 

We’ll also investigate the role of Eustachian tube function and nervous system involvement in these conditions, along with providing insights on options for managing acute versus chronic ear infections. 

Table of Contents:

Are Ear Infections Contagious?

Ear infections aren’t contagious, but the bacterial and viral infections that can often set the stage for infection, can spread from person to person.

Cold and flu virus  can lead to an increase in both mucous production and inflammation in the nose, throat and respirator system.  This inflammation can also move into the middle ear setting the stage for true ear infection with an associated bacteria or virus or pseudo ear infections that have fluid build up but no bacteria or virus. 

Good hygiene habits are a great place to start when trying to slow the transmission of viruses that can lead to ear infections.

  1. Handwashing: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  2. Hand sanitizer: Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water aren’t available.

Types of Ear Infections

There are two primary types of ear infections - otitis media (middle ear infection) and otitis externa (swimmer’s ear) - each with distinct symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

Otitis Media: Middle Ear Infection

Otitis media occurs when bacteria or viruses enter the eustachian tubes, causing inflammation and fluid buildup behind the eardrum, leading to pain, fever, hearing difficulty, or irritability in children.

  • Symptoms: Painful ears, difficulty hearing, fever, irritability in young children
  • Many OM infections resolve on their own, while more severe instances that have an associated bacteria may need to be evaluated by a healthcare professional.

Otitis Externa: Swimmer’s Ear

Otitis externa, also known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection affecting the outer part of your ear canal caused by water remaining trapped after swimming or showering.

  • Symptoms: Itching, redness, and swelling of the outer ear, pain when touching or moving the ear, possible discharge with a foul odor.
  • Treatment: Over-the-counter eardrops can help alleviate symptoms while prescription antibiotic drops may be necessary for more severe cases.

What Causes Ear Infections?

Ear infections are caused by the inability to drain fluid through the Eustachian tube.  This can happen for a number of reasons such as secondary to an active respiratory infection, environmental factors and Eustachian tube dysfunction. 

Viral Respiratory Illnesses

Colds and flu viruses can cause inflammation in the eustachian tubes, leading to fluid buildup and bacterial growth.

Children are more susceptible due to their narrower eustachian tubes.

Environmental Factors

  • Cigarette Smoke: Exposure to secondhand smoke can compromise immune function, making it more difficult for children’s bodies to fight off infections.
  • Allergies: Allergic reactions may cause swelling in the nasal passages and eustachian tubes, increasing susceptibility to ear infections.
  • Pacifier Use: Prolonged pacifier use has been linked with a higher risk of recurrent ear infections in young children.
  • Medical Conditions: Children with Down syndrome or other conditions that affect the structure of their head and neck may have a higher risk for ear infections due to anatomical differences in their eustachian tubes.

To minimize the risk of ear infections, maintain good hygiene practices, avoid exposure to cigarette smoke, manage allergies effectively, and consider limiting pacifier use in young children.

Regulating Pressure: Eustachian Tubes and Nervous System

The eustachian tubes are essential in maintaining proper air pressure balance and draining fluid from the middle ear, but blockages can lead to painful ear infections.

Anatomy and Physiology

Eustachian tubes are small passageways connecting the middle ear to the back of the throat, opening when we swallow or yawn to regulate pressure.  They are more horizontal in children making them more prone in fluid buildup and pressure. 

Benefits of Chiropractic Care for Ear Infections

  • Nervous System Function: Adjustments can help regulate nerve pathways that control the tiny muscles that help open and drain the eustachian tubes to help them function properly.
  • Promoting Immune Response: Chiropractic care can improve overall nervous system health, aiding the body’s natural immune response to fight infections.
  • Aiding Drainage Capability: Adjustments targeting specific areas of the spine related to eustachian tube control can promote proper drainage and reduce inflammation.

Consult with an experienced family and pediatric chiropractor to incorporate chiropractic care into your family’s wellness routine for potential relief from recurring ear infections.

Ear Infection Treatment: Acute vs Chronic

Most ear infections are self limiting, meaning they will resolve on their own over a short period of time.  Things parents can try at home to help manage children’s symptoms include 

   1) Limit inflammatory foods and allergens.

   2) Homeopathic ear drops for pain relief.

   3) Warm compress to the ear and neck to help ease pain and promote drainage.

If ear infections continue to recure or fail to resolve on their own, seek the help of a trained healthcare provider, such as a pediatric chiropractor  

Tips & Healthy Habits

Reduce the risk of ear infections by following these simple yet effective habits:

- hand washing and teaching children about proper hygiene. 

- limit environmental irritants such as inflammatory foods, smoke and allergens.

- strengthen your child’s immune system through healthy diet, exercise, daily supplements and chiropractic care.  

 Click to Tweet

FAQs in Relation to Are Ear Infections Contagious

Are Inner Ear Infection Contagious?

Inner ear infections are not contagious, as they occur deep within the ear and do not involve the outer or middle ear. These infections are typically caused by inflammation or a viral infection affecting the inner ear structures responsible for balance and hearing.

Is an Ear Infection Easy to Catch?

Ear infections themselves are not directly contagious; however, the viruses or bacteria causing respiratory illnesses that can lead to an ear infection may be transmitted.

Is the Bacteria That Causes Ear Infections Contagious?

The bacteria causing some types of middle ear infections can be contagious if it spreads through respiratory droplets from coughing or sneezing. However, this does not guarantee that you will develop an ear infection upon exposure to these bacteria since various factors like immune system function play a role in determining susceptibility.

Are Ear Infections Contagious According to WebMD?

WebMD states that while most cases of otitis media (middle ear infections) aren’t directly infectious, their underlying cause—typically a viral upper respiratory illness—can spread between individuals.


So, are ear infections contagious?  While ear infections themselves are not directly contagious, viral respiratory infections and environmental factors can play a role in both acute and chronic ear infections.

The Eustachian tube plays a crucial role in regulating pressure within the middle ear.  They also help the inner ear drain and remain healthy.  Prevention and maximizing function of the eustachian tube and immune system is an important step to help children dealing with chronic ear infections.  Chiropractic care can help improve both immune and eustachian tube function and may offer potential benefits to individuals.

Schedule a free virtual phone consultation with one of our doctors today. Call to 585-241-9990 or use this link to schedule online

Join our ADHD & Autism Support Group


Download the ADHD Exercise Guide


Download the Autism 180 Guide


Download the Migraine Headaches Guide


Claim Your $47 Migraine Exam Voucher