Swimmers Ear vs Ear Infection: What’s the Difference?

A popular question amongst swimmers ( and parents of swimmers) is ‘what is the difference between swimmers ear vs a common ear infection’.
What most people know as a typical middle ear infection or “otitis media”  is one that occurs when a child is sick with a cold. But what about swimmers ear? Isn’t that an ear infection as well?
Although it is true that swimmers ear often occurs after swimming at the beach or at the pool, swimmers ear or “otitis externa” doesn’t only occur post swimming. It occurs from water or moisture getting trapped in your ear canal. Showers, baths, or hair dyes and chemicals can pose a risk for someone to develop swimmers ear.
As we enter the second half of the summer here’s how to differentiate between the two so that you can protect you and your family from a nasty, painful ear infection.

Swimmers ear symptoms and differences

Symptoms can often overlap and can be confusing on which infection is the culprit. A typical middle ear infection is usually preceded by a cold or an upper respiratory infection. It can be bacterial or it can be viral. As mentioned earlier, middle ear infections are normally common in children. Swimmer’s ear on the other hand, is a bacterial infection along the lining of the ear, from the eardrum to the outer ear. It is not caused by an upper respiratory infection. It can happen to anyone at any age and It can generate from fluid gathering in the outer ear, often by swimming in waters with high bacteria counts or from moisture getting trapped in the ear canal from showers, baths and other substances going into the ear.


Mild symptoms of swimmer’s ear  may include itching, pain from pulling or pushing on the infected ear, which you will NOT have with a middle ear infection.

Severe swimmer’s ear symptoms may include swelling of the ear, pain extending into your neck, a high fever, tender lymph nodes, and possibly a discharge.

Swimmers ear treatment and prevention

At AFC Urgent Care West Hartford we try to assess your symptoms of swimmer’s ear by  first examining your ear and making sure that the eardrum is intact. This allows us to then try and carefully remove any debris in the affected area. Finally, if warranted,  we prescribe antibiotic ear drops, to be used 2-3 times per day for 7 days while giving you a care plan while your ear heals.
During your healing process we recommend that you:

  • Don’t swim during treatment
  • Don’t use earplugs
  • Don’t fly during treatment
  • Use a cotton ball with petroleum jelly on it when bathing

For prevention and reducing you or your families chances of developing swimmers ear:

  • Avoid swimming in waters with high bacteria counts
  • Avoid sticking any sharp objects deep into the ear canal, including Q-tips
  • Don’t use ear plugs, especially for an extended period of time
  • Tilt your head when coming out of the water to get excess water out ( try hopping up and down)
  • Dry your ears off to avoid water going in

Seek help Today !

Don’t let swimmer’s ear ruin you or your child’s summer. Come in to AFC Urgent Care West Hartford at 1030 Boulevard, West Hartford, where our providers are always available and is equipped to care for swimmer’s ear and other ear related infections. We are open 7 days a week, 8am-8pm Monday-Friday and from 8am-5pm on the weekends. You can save time by checking in online and we accept most insurances!



3700 Cahaba Beach Road Birmingham, AL 35242

Our Mission and Values:

Our mission is to provide the best healthcare possible in a kind and caring environment, in an economical manner, while respecting the rights of all of our patients, at times and locations convenient to the patient.

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