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.

Tips for Treating Ear Infections

Quick GuideEar Infection Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Ear Infection Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

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 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.

What is chronic swimmer's ear?

Chronic (long-term) swimmer's ear is otitis externa that persists for longer than four weeks or that occurs more than four times a year. This condition can be caused by a bacterial infection, a skin condition (eczema or seborrhea), fungal infection (Aspergillosis), chronic irritation (such as from the use of hearing aids, insertion of cotton swabs, etc), allergy, chronic drainage from middle ear disease, tumors (rare), or it may simply follow from a nervous habit of frequently scratching the ear. In some people, more than one factor may be involved. For example, a person with eczema may subsequently develop black ear drainage. This would suggest of an accompanying fungal infection.

The standard treatments and preventative measures, as noted below, are often all that is needed to treat even a case of chronic otitis externa. However, in people with diabetes or those with suppressed immune systems, chronic swimmer's ear can become a serious disease (malignant external otitis). Malignant external otitis is a misnomer because it is not a tumor or a cancer, but rather an aggressive bacterial (typically Pseudomonas) infection of the base of the skull.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/17/2015

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.

VIEW PATIENT COMMENTS
  • Swimmer's Ear - Symptoms

    Describe the symptoms you experienced with swimmer's ear. What were your first symptoms?

    Post View 2 Comments
  • Swimmer's Ear - Treatment

    What kinds of treatment, including ear drops, do you use for swimmer's ear? What works best?

    Post View 1 Comment
  • Swimmer's Ear - Prevention

    If you're prone to swimmer's ear, how do you prevent it each time you go swimming?

    Post View 1 Comment
  • Swimmer's Ear - Children

    Does your child get swimmer's ear often? If so, what treatments have you found effective?

    Post
  • Swimmer's Ear - Experience

    Please share your experience with swimmer's ear.

    Post View 1 Comment

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors