There are two main types of ear infections: acute otitis media (a middle ear infection) and otitis externa (swimmer’s ear). A middle ear infection occurs behind the eardrum, whereas swimmer’s ear occurs in the ear canal. Different organisms cause these infections. Swimmer’s ear and ear infections can be a problem year-round.

Ear infection and swimmer’s ear causes

Swimmer’s ear is caused by excess moisture in the ear from swimming or even routine showering. The bacteria in the water find a hospitable home in the moist environment of an inflamed ear canal.

Ear infections can be caused by bacteria and viruses. Bacteria cause most ear infections, but viruses like the flu can also be linked to ear infections. During a cold, sinus or throat infection, or an allergy attack, the tubes which connect the middle ears to the throat can become blocked or constricted, which stops fluid from draining from the middle ear. This fluid is a perfect breeding ground for bacteria or viruses to grow into an ear infection.

Symptoms usually start as a common cold, cough, runny nose and congestion, then may progress to:

  • Earache (either a sharp, sudden pain or a dull, continuous pain, fullness or pressure)
  • A sharp stabbing pain with immediate warm drainage from the ear canal
  • A feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Muffled hearing
  • Ear drainage
  • Tugging at the ear (especially with young children)
  • Poor sleep
  • Fever
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Ear drainage
  • Nasal discharge
  • Diminished appetite
  • Pain at night when lying down

In addition, nasal congestion or nausea may accompany or precede an ear infection, but are not necessarily symptoms of it.