Swimmer's Ear Infection (External Otitis)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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

Quick GuideEar Infection Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Ear Infection Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Swimmer's ear definition and facts

  • Swimmer's ear, or external otitis, is typically a bacterial infection of the skin of the outer ear canal. In contrast to a middle ear infection, swimmer's ear is an infection of the outer ear.
  • Swimmer's ear can occur in both acute and chronic forms.
  • Excessive water exposure and water trapped in the ear is a risk factor for developing swimmer's ear.
  • Frequent instrumentation (usually with cotton swabs) of the ear canal is another potential cause of external ear infection.
  • Early symptoms include
    • itchy ears,
    • a feeling of fullness,
    • swelling of the ear canal,
    • drainage, and
    • pain.
  • Home remedies to help prevent 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 or swimming.
  • Don't scratch the inside of the ear because this may make the condition worse.
  • An ear drop preparation made of rubbing alcohol and vinegar can be used after swimming to remove water from the ears and help prevent swimmer's ear.
  • Antibiotic ear drops and avoidance of water in the ear are frequently necessary for treatment. If the ear is very swollen, a wick may need to be inserted in the ear canal to allow penetration of the ear drops.
  • Follow your doctor's instructions for use of any ear drops or medications
  • Proper ear care can avoid most infections.

What is "swimmer's ear" infection?

External otitis or "swimmer's ear" is an infection of the skin covering the outer ear and ear canal.

What causes swimmer's ear infection?

  • Acute external otitis is commonly a bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, or Pseudomonas types of bacteria. Swimmer's ear infection usually is 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) also can predispose to bacterial infection of the ear canal.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 9/26/2016

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Newsletters

Get the latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!

By clicking Submit, I agree to the MedicineNet's Terms & Conditions & Privacy Policy and understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet's subscriptions at any time.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors