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How To Know If It’s A Swimmer’s Ear Infection

The warm months of summer are behind us, and the cooler autumn months are ahead. Many of us have enjoyed hours swimming in lakes and rivers and may have now moved to pools and hot tubs. While it may sound like the risks of swimmer’s ear infections are behind you, they have many sources. In addition to pools and rivers, they can also be caused by baths, showers, and even hot tubs. With the cold season being upon us, it can be difficult to determine if that infection is a swimmer’s ear infection or a middle ear infection. This guide will help you know the difference and give a couple of tips about preventing swimmer’s ear infections.

How To Know If It’s A Swimmer’s Ear Infection

It’s common for a middle-ear infection to be mistaken for a swimmer’s ear infection, but there are ways to tell them apart. It starts with location. Swimmer’s ear infections form in the outer canal area of the ear, outside the eardrum. Middle-ear infections form in the middle ear, behind the eardrum. As you might suspect, this can result in similar but also very different symptoms. 

Consider the following questions and what they mean for your ear infection:

  • Where is the pain? – Pain near the external part of the ear that increases when you tug on the earlobe indicates a swimmer’s ear infection. Deeper pain that intensifies when you lay down is likely a middle ear infection. Middle ear infections can also impact your quality of sleep due to this increased pain.
  • What Are The Visible Symptoms? – Swelling or a rash-like appearance on the outside of the ear indicates a swimmer’s ear infection. In many cases, it will be quite itchy and may occasionally release a foul-smelling discharge. Vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and ear pulling, however, are middle-ear infection symptoms.
  • Is There Hearing difficulty? – Difficulty hearing can occur with either type of infection. It often serves as the first sign an infection is present.
  • What Are The Possible Sources? – Have you been in a body of water lately? Did you spend time in a pool or a hot tub? Was there water in your ear after a bath or shower? All of these can tell you a little about the source of the infection, and in these cases, it’s likely a swimmer’s ear infection. Take care to ensure all the water is out of your ear canal when you’re done swimming.
  • Where/Are There Respiratory Issues – If you have a runny nose, watery eyes, or concerns with your upper respiratory tract, it’s likely a middle-ear infection. These symptoms can appear before or during a middle-ear infection. This is what makes the cold season a tricky time for discovering ear infection sources.

Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are both acceptable options for controlling pain and discomfort from these infections. They can ease the discomfort caused by swelling and other symptoms of the infection. A warm compress on the ear will often ease pain from a swimmer’s ear infection. While these ease the symptoms, you’ll need antibiotics to treat the infection.

When To Reach Out To Your Health Professional

A visit to your doctor’s office may be in order if you’re experiencing symptoms like the above. However, swimmer’s ear infections can often be treated via telemedicine options. Middle-ear infections may require a visit to the office for a physical inspection, however. It pays to call your doctor’s office and describe your symptoms in either case and follow their advice.

Amrendra Kumar, MD

Dr Amrendra Kumar
Since obtaining his M.D. degree from Temple University in 2006, Dr. Amrendra Kumar’s active role as a medical teacher and physician has helped patients heal and have better control over their health. After opening MDFirst Primary & Urgent Care back in 2013, Dr. Kumar established a better standard of health for those in the Lancaster, SC area.

Amrendra Kumar, MD

Dr Amrendra Kumar
Since obtaining his M.D. degree from Temple University in 2006, Dr. Amrendra Kumar’s active role as a medical teacher and physician has helped patients heal and have better control over their health. After opening MDFirst Primary & Urgent Care back in 2013, Dr. Kumar established a better standard of health for those in the Lancaster, SC area.

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