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 about swimmer's ear in children?

Swimmer's ear may develop in children after swimming in natural water sources or taking part in other water activities. The child may complain of intense pain on movement of the ear, itching, or a sense of fullness. Discharge from the ear may occur. Treatment involves antibiotics, pain control medications, and sometimes antihistamines to reduce itching. Ear symptoms in children can also arise from middle ear infections (otitis media) or foreign bodies in the ear. Your doctor can determine whether your child's ear pain is due to swimmer's ear or another condition.

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. et al. "Otitis Externa." Medscape. Updated Dec 29, 2014

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/17/2015

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