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Ear Ache & Swimmer's Ear

Earache and Swimmer’s Ear

As most parents will agree, ear infections in children are extremely common, painful, and can disrupt a vacation. To distinguish between Otitis Media and Otitis Externa, (internal and external ear infections,) patients may need to consult a physician.

Inner Earache (Otitis Media)

Infections of the inner ear occur most commonly in early childhood but may come at any age. Under normal circumstances, the eustachian tube (a channel that connects the inner ear with the throat) allows bacteria, air, and fluid to drain the inner ear. Colds, sore throats, or allergic conditions may “clog” the eustachian tube and predispose someone to inner ear bacterial infections.


Common symptoms include pain, fullness, difficulty hearing on the affected side, and possible discharge (if the ear drum breaks). In small children who are not yet able to communicate verbally, additional symptoms may include poor appetite, fussiness, sleepiness, or pulling on the affected ear. If you suspect an ear infection, have a doctor examine the inner ear. Amoxicillin, amoxicillin/clavulanic acid (Augmentin), and azithromycin (Zithromax) are common medications used to treat inner ear infections.

Other inner ear conditions may cause pain or fullness without infection. This is often due to an increase in inner ear pressure caused by fluid build up or a clogged eustachian tube. Some people may experience pain when traveling to higher altitudes; sometimes, swallowing or yawning can normalize inner ear pressures.

Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa)

Pool chemicals, bacteria, and dirty or salt water can stagnate in the ear canal and cause inflammation or infection. Symptoms may include muffled or lost hearing, itching of the canal, drainage, and/or pain. Treat Swimmer’s Ear with liquid preparations combined with steroids, antibiotics, and/or acetic acid. (See External Ear Infection Treatments for guidelines.)

Carry a small bottle of Swimmer’s Ear solution (boric acid and alcohol), placing a few drops of this solution in ears at the end of the day. This wards off unwanted external ear infections, especially in children. Excessive earwax may also be a cause of ear canal irritation, pain, and muffled hearing.

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