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Swimmer's Ear (Outer Ear Infection)

 What is swimmer’s ear?
 What is the cause?
 What are the symptoms?
 How is it diagnosed?
 How is it treated?
 How can I take care of myself?
 How can I help prevent swimmer’s ear?

Ear Medicine, How to Put in Ear: Illustration
Ear Medicine, How to Put in Ear: IllustrationClick here to view a full size picture.

Swimmer's Ear: Illustration
Swimmer's Ear: IllustrationClick here to view a full size picture.

What is swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear and ear canal. It is also called otitis externa.

What is the cause?

An outer ear infection can happen when moisture and bacteria or a fungus gets trapped in the ear. A common cause of swimmer's ear is swimming in dirty water, such as a lake or ocean. Getting water in your ear often, such as frequent swimming or showering, can increase your risk of getting an infection. Other things that increase your risk for swimmer’s ear include:

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

Sometimes swelling or pus may decrease your hearing.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine your ears. Your provider may take a sample of pus to be tested in the lab. If you have an infection, it may take several days to find out what kind of germ is causing it. Knowing what germ is causing the infection helps your provider choose the right medicine to treat it.

How is it treated?

Your healthcare provider will carefully clean and dry your ear. You may need to put antibiotic drops in your ear several times a day. If your ear is very swollen, your provider may insert a small piece of cloth (called a wick) into the ear to help get the medicine into the infected area.

Your provider may prescribe an antibiotic that you take by mouth if you have a severe infection.

Your provider may suggest a cream or ointment to put on the infected area for some types of infection.

The pain and swelling will go away gradually as the antibiotics or other medicines take effect. Most outer ear infections clear up completely in 5 to 7 days. Outer ear infections caused by allergies or skin conditions may take longer to heal.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. In addition:

Ask your provider:

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests.

How can I help prevent swimmer’s ear?

healthinformatics info


Waitzman, A.; 12/29/14. Otitis Externa. Retrieved January 2015 from


Otitis Externa. (2013). Patient.co.uk. Retrieved 8/29/2014 from http://www.patient.co.uk/health/otitis-externa.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa). US Dept of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 8/31/2011. Accessed 8/31/2011 from http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/rwi/illnesses/swimmers-ear.html.

Patient.co.uk. Otitis Externa. 1/2012. Accessed 8/2013 from http://www.patient.co.uk/health/Otitis-Externa.htm.

Sander, R. Otitis Externa: A Practical Guide to Treatment and Prevention. American Family Physician v.63.5 (2001). Accessed Aug. 31, 2009 from http://www.aafp.org/afp/20010301/927.html.

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Last Modified: 2014-06-23

Last Reviewed: 2014-09-04

Website Updated: August 2015

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Published by RelayHealth. © 2014 RelayHealth and/or one of its affiliates. All Rights Reserved.

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

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