What is Swimmer's Ear / Otitis Externa?

Swimmer's ear is an infection in the outer ear, between the outer opening of the ear and the ear drum. The infection is called swimmer's ear because it is often the result of bacterial growth in water that remains in your ear after swimming.

Causes of Swimmer's Ear / Otitis Externa

Excess water can remain in your ear after swimming, or excessive bathing or showering. The water creates a damp environment that acts as a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. If the harmful bacteria takes root in your outer ear canal, an infection of the outer ear can arise.

Swimmer's ear can also occur if your ear canal's thin layer of skin becomes damaged or injured. If bacteria makes it past your body's natural defense (earwax or cerumen), it can infect the damaged area of skin in your ear canal, eventually leading to infection or swimmer's ear.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Swimmer's Ear / Otitis Externa

Symptoms of swimmer's ear are similar to those of most ear infections. They may include the following:

  • Discomfort in the area of your ear. The discomfort may worsen if physical contact is made with your ear (bumping or pulling on it).
  • Swelling.
  • Drainage of fluid from your ear.
  • Discharge of pus.
  • Redness or itching inside your ear.
  • Mild or muffled hearing.
  • A feeling of heat around your ear.

If any of these symptoms persist or worsen, your body may needs help fighting the swimmer's ear infection, and you should visit your ENT specialist. Your ENT specialist can examine the infection, analyze the symptoms, confirm the infection, and treat you accordingly.

If you experience symptoms of fever or severe pain, you should call your doctor and or visit the emergency room immediately.

Treatments for Swimmer's Ear / Otitis Externa

It's possible that your outer ear infection will heal on its own without treatment or with over-the-counter medicine. If this does not occur, your ENT specialist will typically treat swimmer's ear by prescribing antibiotic eardrops, or antibiotic eardrops mixed with steroids if swelling within the ear is severe.

In the event severe pain accompanies the infection, your ENT specialist may also suggest over-the-counter pain relief medicine such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

To prevent swimmer's ear, you can:

  • Dry ears thoroughly after swimming or showering by tilting your head to drain excess water.
  • Avoid using cotton swabs or other objects inside of your ear canal as they can damage the thin layer of skin in the ear canal.

All information provided on this website is for information purposes only. Please see a healthcare professional for medical advice. If you are seeking this information in an emergency situation, please call 911 and seek emergency help.

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