Learn about common signs of outer and middle ear infections - and how to tell them apart - from our Raleigh pediatricians.
In the summertime, symptoms of ear infection in kids can be even more confusing than during the rest of the year. Not only do kids develop the middle ear infections which can occur all year long, but in the summer we also frequently encounter external ear infections, or swimmer's ear. Here are some tricks for distinguishing middle ear infections from swimmer's ear from our Raleigh, NC pediatricians at Carolina Kids Pediatrics - as well as some tips for preventing them!
1. External ear infections: Swimmer's ear
External ear infections, or swimmer's ear, are most commonly caused by water trapped in the outer ear canal after swimming, leading to bacterial overgrowth and infection of the outer ear canal. Swimmer's ear is more common in kids who are old enough to put their head under water and dive (preschool, school age, and adolescents). They are also more common after exposure to lake water. Typically, external ear infections cause pain with wiggling of the outer ear or pressing on the front or behind the ear. Most external ear infections do not cause cold symptoms, fever, or cough, but they can cause ear drainage. External ear infections are typically treated with antibiotic ear drops, and can be prevented by instilling several drops of alcohol or a mixture of alcohol and distilled vinegar in both ears after swimming.
2. Middle ear infections: Deeper down
In contrast, middle ear infections have nothing to do with swimming, and are caused by infected fluid trapped behind the ear drum, often due to Eustachian tube swelling after a cold. Middle ear infections are more common in infants and toddlers, and are more likely to be accompanied by fever, runny nose, cough, night waking, fussiness or poor appetite. Oral antibiotics are often used, although some middle ear infections will get better in a few days without antibiotics (pain control with ibuprofen or acetaminophen is still important). Avoiding bottle use after the first year of life, avoiding lying down with a bottle, avoiding smoking in the home, and breastfeeding have all been associated with decreased risk of ear infections.
If you're worried that your child has an ear infection, please contact Carolina Kids Pediatrics in Raleigh, NC at (919) 881-9009, or get in touch with us through our patient portal.