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.

Quick GuideEar Infection Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Ear Infection Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

What is the prognosis for a person with chronic swimmer's ear?

Swimmer's ear is a treatable condition that usually resolves quickly with appropriate treatment. Most often, swimmer's ear can be easily treated with antibiotic ear drops. The doctor may advise using a wick to administer medication while the ear canal is swollen. Chronic swimmer's ear may require more intensive treatment. Swimmer's ear typically does not have any long-term or serious complications.

Why do ears itch?

Itchy ears can drive a person crazy. It can be the first sign of an infection, but if the problem is chronic, it is more likely caused by a chronic dermatitis of the ear canal. Seborrheic dermatitis and eczema can both affect the ear canal. There is really no cure for this problem, but it can be made tolerable with the use of steroid drops and creams. People with these problems are more prone to acute infections as well. Use of ear plugs, alcohol drops, and non-instrumentation of the ear is the best prevention for infection. Other treatments for allergies may also help itchy ears.

What should I do if I get a foreign object or insect in my ear?

Foreign objects are frequently placed in the ear by young children or occur accidentally while trying to clean or scratch the ear. Frequently there is an accompanying external ear infection. Removal of any object from the ear can be very difficult, and should only be attempted by a physician skilled in the techniques of safe removal. Usually this can be done in the office, but sometimes general anesthesia must be used in cases in which the object is lodged too deeply in the ear or if the patient is uncooperative. It is important to remember that the most common reason an ear is injured from a foreign object is because of inadvertent damage occurring during removal of the object.

Insects or bugs may also become trapped in the ear. Small gnats may become caught in the ear wax and cannot fly out. They can often be washed out with warm water. Larger insects or bugs may not be able to turn around in the narrow canal. If the insect or bug is still alive, first kill it by filling the ear with mineral oil. This will suffocate the insect, then see your doctor to have it removed.

REFERENCE: Waitzman, A., MD. "Otitis Externa." Medscape. Updated: Jul 11, 2016.
<http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/994550-overview>

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/16/2017

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