Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa): Symptoms & Signs

  • 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.

Medically Reviewed on 8/23/2016

Otitis externa, sometimes known as swimmer's ear, is an inflammation or infection of the ear canal, the tube that leads from the eardrum to the outer ear. The term "swimmer's ear" is used because this infection often occurs in people who have been swimming or in the water. In addition to ear pain, symptoms can include

  • dizziness,
  • itching,
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear, and
  • drainage or discharge of fluid from the ear.

Causes of swimmer's ear

Swimmer's ear is usually due to bacterial or fungal infection and can be very painful. The two types of bacteria most commonly responsible for swimmer's ear are Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. Risk factors for otitis externa include skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, and seborrhea; trauma from ear wax (cerumen) removal; buildup of ear wax; and the use of external devices such as hearing aids.


Waitzman, Ariel A. "Otitis Externa." Medscape.com. July 11, 2016. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/994550-overview>.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/23/2016

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