Swimmer’s Ear

What is Swimmer’s Ear?

This medical condition is also known as otitis externa and it occurs as the result of an inflamed or infected ear canal. It is most often caused when water gets inside of the ear while swimming, but it can also come about due to irritations inside the ear, such as wearing a hearing aid, excessive cleaning of the inside of the ear and eczema that forms inside the ear canal.

People who have swimmer’s ear are more susceptible to having future outbreaks. This condition is most prevalent in teens and young adults, but it can occur in people of any age.

What are the Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear?

Individuals who have swimmer’s ear will have ear pain and the inside area of the ear will itch. The pain often becomes unbearable and it can cause a person’s face, neck and head to hurt. The lymph nodes that are located in close proximity to the ear and upper portion of the neck may become enlarged and the skin around these areas may appear red and swollen.

The ear may feel like it is full of fluid and a discharge may drain from the inside of the ear. Some people also experience hearing loss when they are afflicted with this condition.

Swimmer’s Ear Causes

Swimmer’s ear is an infection that is caused by water getting caught in the ear canal. Breaks in the lining of the outer ear can let water in, which allows bacteria and other foreign material into the ear.

These tears can be caused by conditions like psoriasis and other skin conditions, inserting something into your ear (like cotton swabs, headphones, ear plugs, or even hearing aids), and using chemicals near the ears (like shampoos and conditioners, or even jewelry and other foreign objects near the ear for long periods).

High humidity and excessive sweating that enters into the ear canal can also lead to infections. If you frequently get swimmer’s ear, you may have a condition that makes it more likely to develop, or may be practicing habits that lead to out skin lining being more easily damaged. It can also occur more frequently in people who spend long periods in water, such as swimmers.

How is Swimmer’s Ear Treated?

It is very important that individuals get treatment for swimmer’s ear to avoid further problems, such as repeated ear infections and damage to the bones on the inside of the ear. For minor ear infections, a physician will prescribe ear drops to be placed inside of the ear canal. If the condition is more advanced, a doctor may prescribe antibiotic ear drops.

A store bought pain reliever can be taken to help reduce the pain associated with swimmer’s ear. Individuals should refrain from swimming or getting water inside their ear while they have the ear infection.

Swimmer’s Ear Prevention

The best way to prevent swimmer’s ear is to take steps to ensure you don’t damage the lining of your outer ear, and trying to prevent water and other liquids from getting into your ear.

For example, if you frequently swim or go into water, try wearing ear plugs designed for swimmers. You can also use ear drops after swimming or getting wet to clear out and dry the ear canal. Use a towel or paper towel after showering and swimming to gently clean the ear area.

Avoid sticking objects far into the ear canal, like cotton swabs. These often do more damage than good. Also avoid or lessen use of earbuds that penetrate deep into the ear, ear plugs (aside from those used when swimming) and any other foreign objects placed in the ear. Even just putting your finger in your ear often can cause problems.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
November 30, 2017