The Key Differences Between Swimmer’s Ear vs. Ear Infection

Ear Infection, swimmer's ear

Swelling of the throat, fever, and ear pain – are all common symptoms of a swimmer’s ear and an ear infection. While both can cause pain and discomfort for your child, symptoms, treatments, and prevention differ.

This article will help you understand the differences between the two illnesses.

Understanding Swimmer’s Ear 

If your child is feeling pain because of the water that entered his ear canals after swimming, then he has a swimmer’s ear. Swimmer’s ear is a condition where water becomes trapped in your ear canal, causing swelling and discharge. This can lead to pain, hearing, and balance issues.

The part of your ear that controls balance is called the semicircular canals, which are affected by this swelling. Vestibulitis is also a type of swimmer’s ear. It occurs when the balance canal is blocked by earwax, giving your child vertigo.

Symptoms to watch for:

  • Clear fluid coming out of the ear 
  • Itchy Ear 
  • Pain that becomes more tender when the ear is moved up or down
  • Fully or partially blocked ear 
  • Pain sensation when pushing on the tab of tissue in front of the ear
  • Redness or swelling of the outer ear

Treatment options include:

  • Over-the-counter Swim-EAR® drops (or other brands)
  • Over-the-counter pain medication
  • Keeping the ear canal dry

You should not use ear drops if your child has ear tubes or possibly ruptured eardrums. Pain medication is recommended as an option if you cannot use the drops because of your child’s history.

Symptoms will resolve in three days with the help of pain medication, but up to a week if with ear drops alone. 

Tips to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear

You must dry any water inside the ear after showering, hair washing, or swimming, as this helps prevent the swimmer’s ear. You can use a hair dryer, set it low, and direct it to the ear to speed up the drying process. 

Do not use cotton swabs to clean the ear, as this will pack the wax in the ear canal and cause water to pool behind it. Instead, it’s vital to go to an otolaryngologist.

Knowing Ear Infections

An ear infection occurs in children between six months and two years of age, but they are common until age eight. It results from swelling in the middle ear cavity, usually due to a blocked Eustachian tube that connects the middle ear with the throat and is usually part of a common cold. Fluid will build up, and bacterial and viral growth will result. 

This fluid can be caused by an infection but can also occur after a long flight, spending time in a hot environment, or during allergy season.

Depending on the stage of the infection, children may experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Decreased hearing 
  • Difficulty sleeping 
  • Ear drainage 
  • Fever
  • Rowdiness
  • Loss of balance
  • Pain or discomfort in or around the ear

Children with ear infections may receive pain relievers and cream or drops for their ear infections. Sometimes, after their condition has been assessed, doctors will prescribe antibiotics. The doctor will recommend which medications are best for your child.

Tips to Prevent Infection

  • Stay away from cigarette smokers
  • Avoid coming into close contact with sick people 
  • Breastfeed your children for the first 6 to 12 months.
  • Position your children upright during feedings.
  • Ensure your children are up-to-date on their immunizations.
  • Ensure you keep your children’s allergies under control.


While swimmer’s ear and ear infection are two closely similar conditions, they vary in symptoms, treatments, and prevention. We hope this article helps you understand their differences. 

If you’re unsure about the causes and treatments for your child’s earaches, it is always a good idea to get pediatric urgent care. Thankfully, you can get fast and effective telemedicine in Orlando, FL, at Your Kids Urgent Care. Contact us today to learn more.

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