How to Tell the Difference Between Inner & Outer Ear Infections


Ear infections are most common among children ages 6 months to 3 years. They can be extremely painful and irritating. According to, three out of four children will have at least one ear infection by age 3. There are numerous variables as to what causes ear infections, the No. 1 reason being the common cold and coming in second is water infiltration, as in swimmer's ear. Chronic, or reoccurring, infections may require the insertion of tubes, as hearing loss may become an issue.

Things You'll Need

  • Thermometer
  • Mirror (to check for swelling)
  • White vinegar (if necessary)
  • Rubbing alcohol (if necessary)

Indications of Inner or Middle Ear Infection

  • According to, inner ear infections are among the most common illnesses of early childhood and most ear infections clear up on their own in a few days. One or more of the following symptoms is an indication of an infection: pain in one or both ears, trouble sleeping, fever of 100 degrees or higher, headache, dizziness and trouble hearing. Seek medical attention if these symptoms persist for longer than a day or two.

  • Inner ear infections usually begin with a viral infection, such as a cold. The middle ear becomes swollen from the viral infection, with fluid building up behind the ear drum. A blockage or swelling of the eustachian tubes, passages connecting the nose and the middle ear, are other common causes of ear infections and usually occur due to a severe cold or allergies.

  • Physicians usually treat inner ear infections with a wait-and-see approach, as most inner infections clear up on their own. Your physician may wait 72 hours before prescribing medication, unless the child is under 6 months of age or the patient has had two or more ear infections in the past 30 days. Once medication is the decided method of treatment, your physician will prescribe an antibiotic; usually results are seen within a few days.

  • Prevention of inner ear infections in children requires trying to limit exposure to other children who are sick. Keep them away from secondhand smoke and ask your doctor about the pneumococcal vaccine--to prevent pneumonia, meningitis and ear infections.
    For prevention in adults, ask your physician about possibly taking over-the-counter decongestants or allergy medications to reduce the risk of further ear infections. Sinus congestion due to colds or allergies is a common cause of ear infections in adults.

Indications of Outer Ear Infection

  • According to, an outer ear infection is likelier caused by water or frequent swimming, generally known as "swimmer's ear." It is an infection of the ear canal caused, in most cases, by bacteria in the thin layer of skin covering the canal. recommends consulting a physician for any of the following symptoms (even if the symptoms are mild): itching inside ear canal, redness of ear canal, drainage of odorless fluid, discharge of puss, excessive pain and feeling of fullness in the ear and loss of or muffled hearing.

  • According to, if you have an outer ear infection it is because "...the defenses of the ear canal have been overrun. Your ear canals have features that help keep them clean and prevent infection." Excess moisture allowed into the ear or a tear in the lining of the canal may allow bacteria access and cause an infection.

  • Outer ear infection treatments consist of cleaning and flushing the ear, applying medicated ear drops and keeping the ear dry until infection clears. Your physician will prescribe drops consisting of the proper medications associated with the type of infection he has diagnosed.

  • To prevent further outer ear infections, keep your ears dry. Dry them thoroughly after swimming and bathing. Tilt your head to either side to allow any water to drain from your ears. The suggests that, as long as you know you don't have a punctured ear drum, before swimming apply one part white vinegar and one part rubbing alcohol into each ear (one teaspoon into each) to prevent bacteria from growing. They further suggest to avoid putting any foreign objects into your ear.

Tips & Warnings

  • Whenever you are unsure about your or your child's symptoms, your best call to action is to consult with your physician, as severe or numerous ear infections can lead to some form of hearing loss.

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