Swimmer's ear is inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal. The medical term for swimmer's ear is otitis externa.
This article discusses acute swimmer's ear. See also: Swimmer's ear - chronic
Swimmer's ear is fairly common, especially among teenagers and young adults.
Causes of swimmer's ear include:
Trying to clean wax from the ear canal, especially with cotton swabs or small objects, can irritate or damage the skin.
Swimmer's ear is occasionally associated with middle ear infection (otitis media) or upper respiratory infections such as colds. Moisture in the ear makes the ear more prone to infection from water-loving bacteria such as pseudomonas. Other bacteria, and rarely, fungi, can also cause infection.
The doctor will perform a physical exam, which includes looking inside the ears. The ear, including the ear canal, appears red and swollen. The skin inside the ear canal may be scaly or shedding.
Touching or moving the outer ear increases the pain. The eardrum may be difficult for the doctor to see because of a swelling in the outer ear.
The doctor may take a sample of fluid from the ear and send it to a lab so any bacteria or fungus can be identified.
The goal of treatment is to cure the infection. Medicines may include:
The ear canal should be cleaned of drainage. This allows the medicines to work better.
Four or five ear drops should be used at a time, so that the medicine can get into the end of the ear canal. If the ear canal is very swollen, a wick may be applied in the ear to allow the drops to travel to the end of the canal.
Analgesics may be used if the pain is severe. Placing something warm against the ears may reduce pain.
Swimmer's ear responds well to treatment, but complications may occur if it is not treated. Some individuals with underlying medical problems, such as diabetes, may be more likely to get complications such as malignant otitis externa.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Protect ears from further damage.
Ear infection - outer ear - acute; Otitis externa - acute