Swimmer's Ear Infection
(External Otitis)

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Swimmer's ear facts

  • Swimmer's ear, or external otitis, is typically a bacterial infection of the skin of the outer ear canal.
  • Swimmer's ear can occur in both acute and chronic forms.
  • Excessive water exposure and frequent instrumentation (usually with cotton swabs) of the ear canal are important causative factors.
  • Early symptoms include
  • itchy ears,
    • a feeling of fullness,
    • swelling,
    • drainage, and
    • pain.
  • Home remedies for swimmer's ear include
    • Take measures to keep the ears dry at all times. Use ear plugs or a cotton ball with Vaseline on the outside to plug the ears when showering
    • Don't scratch the inside of the ear because this may make the condition worse.
    • Follow your doctor's instructions for use of any medications
  • Antibiotic ear drops and avoidance of water are frequently necessary for treatment.
  • Proper ear care can avoid most infections.

What is "swimmer's ear" or acute external otitis?

External otitis or "swimmer's ear" is an infection of the skin covering the outer ear and ear canal. Acute external otitis is commonly a bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, or Pseudomonas types of bacteria. The swimmer's ear infection is usually caused by excessive water exposure from swimming, diving, surfing, kayaking, or other water sports. When water collects in the ear canal (frequently trapped by wax), the skin can become soggy and serve as an inviting area for bacteria to grow. Cuts or abrasions in the lining of the ear canal (for example, from cotton swab injury) can also predispose to bacterial infection of the ear canal.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/17/2015

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Swimmer's Ear - Symptoms Question: Describe the symptoms you experienced with swimmer's ear. What were your first symptoms?
Swimmer's Ear - Treatment Question: What kinds of treatment, including ear drops, do you use for swimmer's ear? What works best?
Swimmer's Ear - Prevention Question: If you're prone to swimmer's ear, how do you prevent it each time you go swimming?
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Earache (Ear Pain) Symptoms

Ear pain can be caused by conditions within the ear, the ear canal, or it may affect visible portions of the ear. Infections of the ear include infections of the middle ear (otitis media), outer ear (swimmer's ear or otitis externa). An earache also can be caused by pain and inflammation of the outer portion of the ear.

Some people may experience the following related symptoms and signs with earache:

  • Headache
  • Jaw pain
  • Nasal congestion