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Ear Infection

Two common types of ear infections are otitis media (middle ear infection) and otitus externa (swimmer’s ear). Most ear infections of young children occur in the middle ear (otitis media).

What causes ear infection?

Otitis media: Occurs when mucus-containing bacteria collects in the middle ear space. Ear infections can be very painful. In older children, most ear infections resolve by themselves in a day or two. In children younger than 24 months, ear infections can last longer and usually require antibiotics.

Otitis externa (swimmer’s ear): Moisture and bacteria from water in pools, lakes or streams promotes infection in the skin of the ear canal. This produces painful swelling and pus may collect in the ear canal.

Ear infections may be caused by viral upper respiratory infections, allergies or exposure to irritants (such as cigarette smoke).

How is ear infection spread?

Middle ear infections are complications of respiratory infections. The bacteria or virus that led to the middle ear infection may be contagious, but no more worrisome than other germs that cause the common cold.

Swimmer’s ear is a bacterial infection of the skin in the ear canal.

Drainage from ear infections can contain bacteria and should be treated as wound drainage. 

What are the symptoms of ear infection?

Pain inside the ear or when moving the earlobe. Fussiness, irritability, crying, poor feeding, ear drainage, difficulty hearing and fever. Children may pull on the affected ear. 

Ear infections are not contagious. However, drainage for ear infections can contain bacteria and should be treated as wound drainage.

How can I prevent infection?

  1. Avoid smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke and do not expose children to secondhand smoke.
  2. Avoid exposure to air pollution.
  3. Stay up to date on recommended immunizations.
  4. Breastfeed children for 12 months or more if possible.
  5. Bottle feed children in the upright position.


For more information, please call the Northern Kentucky Health Department at 859.363.2070.

Revised November 2014