Outer ear and middle ear infections can be linked to fluid in the ear, according to the Mayo Clinic and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), respectively — but this are two entirely different conditions with different treatments.
What causes an outer ear infection?
According to the Mayo Clinic, if water remains in your ear after swimming, the moisture can promote bacterial growth, which can cause inflammation of the external ear canal. This outer ear infection (otitis externa), or swimmer's ear, can even occur when you put something - like a cotton swab - in your ear and it damages the skin lining your ear canal.
If your child has swimmer's ear, they may complain of itching or pain. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), you may have difficulty listening and you may even see yellowish pus oozing from the contaminated ear.
Treatment of an outer ear infection
Taking your child to the doctor may prescribe ear drops, according to the AAP, which also recommends using an at-home preventative solution after swimming to keep ears dry.
The AAP also means that using cotton swabs to rub children's ears is not strictly necessary.
What causes a middle ear infection?
The middle ear is on the other side of the eardrum from the ear canal. Otitis media usually results from a sinus or throat condition that mimics a cold or allergy, notes the Mayo Clinic. The nasal passages and Eustachian tubes (tubes that run from each middle ear to the back of the nasal passages at the back of the throat) become swollen due to this type of condition. This swelling along with mucus and inflammation can block the tubes, which will cause fluid to build up in the middle ear. Infection of this fluid is what produces signs of middle ear infection.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), one of the most common causes of hearing loss in children is fluid in the ear due to otitis media. Fortunately, this type of loss listening, called conductive loss listening, usually doesn't last forever.
Complications of otitis media
As the NIDCD notes, sometimes the signs of otitis media go away, but the fluid is still trapped behind the eardrum (the doctor can see this with a special instrument). This is called otitis media with effusion; The fluid may linger for a very long time or seem to come back without any other signs of infection. It can affect hearing.
Treatment of a middle ear infection
Once your doctor is sure your child has otitis media, they'll likely prescribe an antibiotic and possibly a painkiller, notes the NIDCD. The ASHA recommends that if you have already seen an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist and your child continues to have ear infections or fluid problems, the next two specialists to discuss are an audiologist and a speech pathologist.
Now that you know the different types of ear infections, learn about the symptoms of an ear infection and the best way to avoid a full-blown ear infection.
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