How To Tell If You Have An Ear Infection Or Swimmer's Ear

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May 5, 2023

As summer is in full swing, many of us enjoy spending time in the water, whether it's at the beach, pool, or a lake. However, water activities can sometimes lead to pesky ear infections, such as swimmer's ear. It's essential to recognize the early signs of these conditions to seek appropriate treatment promptly. In this blog post, we'll explore the differences between ear infections and swimmer's ear and how to identify the symptoms to ensure you can enjoy the water without any worries.

Understanding Swimmer's Ear and Ear Infections

Before diving into the symptoms, let's briefly understand what swimmer's ear and ear infections are:

  • Swimmer's Ear: Swimmer's ear, also known as otitis externa, is an infection of the outer ear canal. It typically occurs when water gets trapped in the ear, creating a moist environment that encourages bacterial or fungal growth. Swimmer's ear can be painful and uncomfortable but is usually not as severe as a regular ear infection.
  • Ear Infections: Ear infections, or otitis media, affect the middle ear and are more common in children. They often occur as a result of fluid buildup behind the eardrum, leading to inflammation and possible bacterial infection.

Common Symptoms of Swimmer's Ear

The signs and symptoms of swimmer's ear usually appear within a few days of water exposure. They may include:

a) Ear Pain: Swimmer's ear is often accompanied by intense ear pain that worsens when the outer ear is touched or pulled.

b) Itching: You may experience itching in the ear canal, which can be bothersome.

c) Redness and Swelling: The outer ear might become red, swollen, or tender to the touch.

d) Drainage: In some cases, there could be a clear, odorless fluid drainage from the ear.

e) Decreased Hearing: Hearing loss or muffled sounds may occur due to the ear canal's swelling.

Recognizing Symptoms of Ear Infections

Ear infections, particularly in children, might manifest differently and can include:

a) Earache: Similar to swimmer's ear, ear infections may cause pain in the affected ear.

b) Fever: A low-grade fever might accompany an ear infection.

c) Irritability: Infants and young children might display increased fussiness or irritability.

d) Fluid Drainage: There could be pus-like fluid draining from the ear.

e) Trouble Sleeping: Ear infections can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to restlessness.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, it's crucial to seek medical attention. Both swimmer's ear and ear infections can worsen if left untreated, potentially leading to more severe complications.

Preventive Measures

Preventing ear infections and swimmer's ear is better than dealing with the discomfort later. Here are some preventive tips:

a) Dry Ears Thoroughly: After swimming or showering, use a towel to gently dry your ears, tilting your head to allow any trapped water to escape.

b) Avoid Inserting Objects: Never insert cotton swabs, bobby pins, or any other objects into your ear canal, as this can damage the skin and increase infection risk.

c) Earplugs: Consider wearing earplugs designed for swimming to keep water out of your ears.

d) Avoid Prolonged Water Exposure: Limit the time spent in the water, especially if you've had ear infections or swimmer's ear in the past.


Ear infections and swimmer's ear can be uncomfortable and, if left untreated, can lead to complications. By recognizing the symptoms early on and taking preventive measures, you can protect your ears and enjoy your water activities to the fullest. Remember, if you suspect you have an ear infection or swimmer's ear, consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment. Happy and safe swimming!