Ear infections can happen year round, but some people—especially kids—can get them more during the warmer months while swimming and doing other water-related activities. No matter when they happen, though, ear infections aren’t fun to deal with, and the more you can do to avoid or prevent them, the better!
To help you stay informed, here are some of the most common ear infection symptoms plus some helpful tips for possibly preventing infections this season.
Ear Infections Symptoms by Type
There are three types of ear infections, each in a different part of the ear: inner, middle, and outer ear infections.
Inner Ear Infection Symptoms
Inner ear infections occur when the labyrinth in your inner ear—which controls your balance—becomes inflamed and swollen from bacteria, viruses or respiratory problems.
These types of infection can come on quickly and usually last for several days.
Inner ear infection symptoms can include:
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Trouble focusing your vision or hearing
- Ringing or buzzing in the ear
Middle Ear Infection Symptoms
When fluid can’t drain from the Eustachian tube of the middle ear, such as when someone has allergies, a cold or flu, or an upper respiratory infection, bacteria or viruses may start to grow and cause a middle ear infection.
Middle ear infections usually happen a couple days to a week after coming down with a respiratory infection like a cold.
- Mild to severe pain in the ear
- Thick, yellow, or bloody drainage
- Lack of appetite or vomiting
Outer Ear Infection Symptoms
Outer ear infections often occur when the ear canal stays wet for too long and bacteria or fungi begin to grow there. This is also why outer ear infections are often referred to as “swimmer’s ear” and why they can happen during the warmer months when long days at the pool are common.
Putting something too deep into the ear, such as a q-tip, can also cause swimmer’s ear.
Swimmer’s ear symptoms include:
- Intense pain that starts within a day or two, especially if the person is eating or the ear is pulled on or touched.
- Redness on the outer ear
- Problems hearing and/or a ringing in the ear
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Swelling and itching of the ear canal
- Fluid or pus drainage that could be white, yellow, clear, or bloody
- Swollen lymph nodes and/or pain on the same side of the neck or face
- Feeling of fullness in the affected ear
While sometimes ear infections happen no matter what you do, the best case scenario is preventing them from happening in the first place. Here are some things you can do to help prevent ear infections.
9 Factors that Help Avoid Ear Infections
The best way to help prevent ear infections is by limiting the factors that put you or your child at risk. Here are some tips:
- Avoid being around people who smoke.
- Wash your hands frequently to prevent germs, colds, and flu
- Don’t put your child to bed or down for a nap with a bottle.
- During times when you’re most prone to ear infections (if you’ve already had one), try not to be around other people too much, especially during cold and flu seasons.
- Keep your ears clean and dry, especially after swimming or bathing. If you feel water in your ear, tip your head to the side to drain it.
- To completely dry out your ear, you can gently blow a hair dryer on the lowest setting near your ear.
- Wear pliable ear plugs when swimming to keep water out of your ears.
- Don’t use bad ear wax cleaning methods on your ears, as they can break the skin and also increase your risk of infections.
- Consider ear drops to soothe the area (but don’t use if the ear is blocked, ruptured, or contains open cuts—check with your doctor if you aren’t sure).
The Bottom Line
Being mindful of ear infection symptoms and risks can help you identify them early on and get the treatment you need. It’s just one more way to keep your whole body healthy—including your ears!