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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.

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

What is swimmer’s ear?

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

What is the cause?

Bacteria and sometimes fungi may cause the infection. It can result from an injury, as might occur if you use a Q-tip or something sharp to clean your ear canal. It can also be caused by dirty water in your ears (for example, from a lake or ocean). Frequent showering or swimming can increase the risk of getting an infection. Outer ear infections often happen in the summer from swimming in polluted water. The chemicals in hair spray or hair dye may also irritate the ear canal and increase the risk of infection.

Some people get outer ear infections repeatedly, especially if they clean their ears too vigorously. People who have skin allergies also seem prone to these ear infections.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms 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 and culture it to identify the bacteria or fungus.

How is it treated?

Your healthcare provider will carefully clean and dry your ear. If your ear is very swollen, your provider may insert a wick soaked with an antibiotic into the ear to get the medicine into the infected area. You may need to put drops in your ear several times a day to keep the wick moist.

Your provider may prescribe an antibiotic if you have a severe infection.

Your provider may suggest a cream or ointment medicine 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.

How can I take care of myself?

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

Keep water out of your ears until the infection is completely gone. Take baths instead of showers. Ask your provider how you should protect your ears when you wash your hair.

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent swimmer’s ear?

healthinformatics info

Reference Sources:

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: 2013-11-06

Last Reviewed: 2013-09-03

Website Updated: March 2014

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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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