Fluid In The Ear Vs. An Ear Infection: Know The Difference

Is It Really An Ear Infection?

Your ears aren’t something you think about on a regular basis, but you use them every day. When they cause you pain or discomfort, you notice them on a whole new level. Ear infections are common in children and adults get them on occasion. However, ear infections aren’t the only issues that arise within the ears. There can also be fluid in the ears, which is sometimes called swimmer’s ear, which can cause discomfort in a number of ways.

Fluid In The Ears

If you or your child has ear pain after swimming, there may be fluid in the ears, which some people refer to as swimmer’s ear. This is an irritation of the skin that lines the canal within the ear or the narrow tube at the bottom that attaches to the eardrum. When water from the shower, swimming pool, or a body of water gets trapped in the ears, the lining becomes swollen and wet, which can cause bacteria to grow.


If you have fluid in your ears, you might see clear liquid leaking from your ears. Your ear can feel itchy, plugged, or full at times. The pain in your ear will increase when you move your ear up and down or when you push the tissue on the front of your ear. The outer ear could also swell and look red.

Treatment Options

Swimmer’s ear can usually be treated at home with pain medication and over-the-counter ear drops to keep the canal dry. Symptoms usually improve in three days, but if the pain persists, visit with an ENT doctor.

Prevention Tips

The best way to avoid pain is to prevent swimmer’s ear from occurring. After showering or swimming, tilt your head to one side to let the water run out and let the ear dry off. You can also set a hair dryer on low and hold it at arm’s length away to dry that area. Don’t use cotton swabs to clean your ears out, as it can pack ear wax further into the ear and trap water along with it.

Ear Infections

Ear infections occur when the middle ear cavity swells because the Eustachian tube is blocked causing fluid to build up and bacteria to grow. Ear infections are often caused by the common cold and they are most noticeable after the cold has settled in for a few days.


Ear infections will cause decreased hearing, ear drainage, and possibly loss of balance. The ears will be painful and there may be discomfort in and around the ear. It can be hard to sleep and a fever may also be present.

Treatment Options

Treatments for ear infections often include pain medication, cold pack application, or antibiotics. Your ENT doctor will need to see you to prescribe the correct medication according to the severity of your infection.

Prevention Tips

You can’t prevent every ear infection, but avoiding people who have colds, avoiding cigarette smoke and keeping your allergies under control will helpl.


Understanding Ear Infections And Fluid In The Ears

Since you aren’t an expert, it can be hard to tell the difference between an ear infection versus fluid in the ears. When in doubt, visit an ENT doctor who can diagnose the problem with ease and put you on the right path to healing.