Is it swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear is an infection in the outer ear canal. It’s often brought on by water in the ear that remains after swimming, creating a moist environment where bacteria can grow.
While it can affect anyone, swimmer’s ear is most common in children (because they have narrower ear canals) and during the summer months (because of the increased use of swimming pools and lakes).
Swimmer’s ear is not the same as a middle ear infection, which occurs behind the eardrum and is most often caused by a viral infection.
Spot the symptoms of swimmer’s ear or a middle ear infection.
Look for visible symptoms
If your child is experiencing ear pain, these signals are especially helpful: with swimmer’s ear, the outer ear may appear red and swollen and have a rash-like appearance. You may see your child frequently scratch at their ear or complain of an itchy ear. Also watch for foul-smelling drainage coming from the ear(s) that bother them. Symptoms to watch for with a middle ear infection include fever, pulling or tugging on the ear, decreased appetite, diarrhea or vomiting.
Check for difficulty hearing
Temporary hearing loss is a telltale sign for both a middle ear infection and swimmer’s ear, and it may be one of the first signs you notice.
How to treat ear pain
It’s OK to take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or Tylenol to help relieve the pain associated with swimmer’s ear or other types of ear infections. A warm compress placed over the affected ear can also relieve the pain from swimmer’s ear. You should consult with an expert to treat the cause of the infection. If you need more than temporary relief, here are some other options.
For swimmer’s ear
Swimmer’s ear can usually be treated in children and adults with an online visit, like Allina Health Everyday Online. This is especially convenient if symptoms start while you’re away from home, after clinic hours or over the weekend since most online clinics have 24-hour access. Whether you’re seen online or in person, your provider will likely prescribe antibiotic ear drops to treat swimmer’s ear.
For middle ear infections
With a middle ear infection, it’s best to have a provider examine your ear with an otoscope to look for signs of infection or blockages. For this reason you should be seen in person at urgent care, a convenient care or walk-in clinic, or your primary care clinic. If your provider believes that bacteria may have caused the infection, she’ll prescribe an antibiotic. However, if a virus is causing the infection, an antibiotic won’t help, and you’ll have to wait for the infection to get better on its own.