Prevention, Symptoms and Treatment of Swimmer’s Ear: Acute External Otitis

Contra Costa Hearing Blog

Acute external otitis or otitis externa – more commonly called swimmer’s ear – is an infection that affects the outer ear canal. The infection is known as swimmer’s ear because it routinely develops because of liquid staying in the ears after swimming which provides a moist environment that promotes the growth of microbes. Swimmer’s ear can also be the result of scratching or damaging the delicate skin lining the ear canal by inserting your fingers, Q-tips, or other foreign objects in an attempt to clean them. You should be familiar with the outward symptoms of swimmer’s ear, because even though it can be easily treated, not treating it can lead to severe complications.

If the ear’s innate defenses are overloaded, the end result may be swimmer’s ear. Bacteria establish themselves and begin to multiply in the ears for numerous different reasons including surplus moisture or damage to the ear canal lining. Specific activities will increase your likelihood of contracting swimmer’s ear. Swimming, use of inside-the-ear devices (including hearing aids or ear buds), overly aggressive cleaning of the ear canal and allergies all raise your likelihood of infection.

The most common signs and symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itching in the ear canal, minor discomfort that is made worse by tugging on your ear, a mild redness inside the ear, and minor drainage of an odorless, clear fluid. In more moderate cases of infection, these problems may develop into more severe itching, pain, and discharge of pus. In extreme cases, swimmer’s ear can result in severe pain that radiates to other regions of the face, neck, or head, swelling or redness of the outer ear or lymph nodes, fever, and obstruction of the ear canal. Side effects of untreated swimmer’s ear can be serious, including short-term hearing loss, cartilage and bone loss, long-term ear infections, and the spread of deep-tissue infections to other areas of the body. So if you experience even the milder symptoms of swimmer’s ear, it’s a good idea to see your doctor immediately.

During your office visit, the physician will look for signs of swimmer’s ear with an otoscope, which allows them to peer deep into your ear. Physicians will also check that your eardrum has not been damaged or ruptured. If you in fact have swimmer’s ear, the conventional treatment consists of carefully cleaning the ears and using prescription ear drops to fight the infectious bacteria. For extensive, severe infections a course of antibiotics taken orally may be prescribed.

Just remember these three tips to avoid getting swimmer’s ear.

  1. Dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or bathing.
  2. Don’t swim in untreated, open bodies of water.
  3. Do not place any foreign objects in your ears in an effort to clean them.
The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Schedule an appointment to see if hearing aids could benefit you.