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.
  • 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.

What are symptoms of swimmer's ear?

The first symptom of infection is that the ear will feel full, and it may itch. Next, the ear canal will swell, and ear drainage will follow. At this stage the ear will be very painful, especially with movement of the outside portion of the ear. The ear canal can swell shut, and the side of the face can become swollen. Finally, the lymph nodes (glands) of the neck may enlarge, making it difficult or painful to open the jaw. People with swimmer's ear may experience some temporary hearing loss in the affected ear.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/17/2014

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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