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Is it Swimmers’ Ear or Something More Serious?

Despite how accustomed to temporary pain you may be, ear pain can have a way of driving you crazy, especially if you can’t tell if it’s swimmer’s ear or not.  Understanding the source of your ear pain can determine how much suffering you’re going to endure over the next few days.

Apples and oranges

The terms “ear infection” and “swimmer’s ear” tend to be thrown around whenever there’s ear pain.  Not only is this inaccurate, it can possibly lead to mistreating the condition or missing something.

Both can be triggered by water so the names are definitely confusing.  Looking out for the following symptoms allows you to easily discern between the two:

  • Swimmer’s Ear – Also known as Otis Externa, it typically happens after a bout of swimming.  The outer ear canal (the part you can touch) becomes inflamed causing pain.Common symptoms include tenderness to touch, itching, ear lobe pain, redness, swelling and drainage.
  • Ear Infection – Also known as Acute/Serous Otitis Media.  Triggered by a virus or bacteria, this pain originates from your middle ear, behind the eardrum.  Children are especially prone to this kind of infection just after catching a cold or allergies.  Fluid and pus builds up and the inflammation prevents draining.  This eventually presses against the eardrum causing pain.Common symptoms include ringing, fever, trouble hearing, itching, and of course pain.  In some cases the eardrum ruptures allowing pus to finally drain.

Knowing how to tell the difference between the two won’t only allow you to know what to tell the doctor, it can help you formulate a strategy before you even get there.

Sounds good

Both swimmer’s ear and ear infections are pretty short-term affairs but you’ll want to respond differently depending on which one you have.

Swimmer’s ear is typically treated through prescription eardrops.  That sounds simple enough but if the inflammation is too high, you may need to open up the canal with an ear wick.

Swimmer’s ear is also treated with antibiotics though your doctor should be the one deciding if they’re appropriate.  If antibiotics are overused viruses can begin to develop resistances and that’s the last thing you want.

Ear infections are treated slightly differently.  If ignored, they can lead to permanent loss of hearing.  Prescription eardrops aren’t too effective here so you’ll have to turn to oral antibiotics if it persists.  The same precaution as above applies to these antibiotics so you should wait for a doctor to prescribe them.

Backup has arrived

You may be unsure if seeing a regular doctor for your ear pain is worth it.  If it’s recurrent then there’s no question, you need a professional opinion.  Thankfully, there’s specialists known as Ear, Nose and Throat doctors, or ENTs, who specialize in the inner workings of your ear.

By understanding there’s a problem and what kind it is you’ll be prepared to fight it off, whether it’s swimmer’s ear or an ear infection.

At Houston Sinus & Allergy, we assess patients for the severity of their condition, and determine a treatment. Book an assessment with our experienced ENT, Dr. Nguyen, and start feeling better.

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