Conditions We Treat: Swimmer’s Ear

Ears and moisture don’t always go well together. A case of swimmer’s ear could lead to temporary hearing loss or other problems, making it important to identify and treat the condition sooner rather than later. Learn more about swimmer’s ear and how ENT, Sinus & Hearing Care Center can help.


What Is Swimmer’s Ear?

The condition, also called “otitis externa,” is an infection of the outer ear canal — a passage that runs from the outside of the ear to the eardrum. As the name suggests, the condition is prevalent in those who spend a lot of time in water.

Exposing the sensitive skin within the ear to excessive moisture will eventually irritate the skin, thus allowing bacteria and fungi to settle in. Though swimmer’s ear frequently develops during summertime, it can occur year-round due to eczema or excessive dry skin.

A diagram of otitis externa, also known as swimmer's ear


What Are Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear?

In most cases, the condition initially manifests mildly, with itching, moderate discomfort, slight redness inside the ear, and minor drainage. Left untreated, the infection will spread and the symptoms escalate.

Moderate to severe symptoms associated with otitis externa include:

  • Pain that radiates to the face, neck, and side of the head
  • Redness and severe itching of the outer ear
  • Swelling of the outer ear and of the lymph nodes in the neck
  • Extreme drainage and discharge of pus
  • Partial loss of hearing
  • Fever


How Is Swimmer’s Ear Diagnosed?

In the initial phase, the condition can be diagnosed with a thorough examination of the ear canal and eardrum. If the infection is in an advanced stage or persists, further testing might be necessary to determine the extent of the problem.

An examination helps determine the precise location of the infection — some treatments for outer ear infections aren’t suitable for the middle ear. If the infection doesn’t respond to the treatment, the physician will have to take a sample and identify the bacteria or fungi causing the infection.


How Is Swimmer’s Ear Treated?

Treatment for otitis externa usually starts with a careful cleaning of the ear canal, which is necessary to allow the medication to reach the infected area. Cleaning in this case involves the physician, who may use an ear curette or a suction device to remove discharge, earwax, flaky skin, and other fragments from the canal.

In the case of a severe infection, the doctor may use a cotton wick to help facilitate the medication entering the affected area. Following cleaning, the provider will prescribe ear drops and, possibly, pain medication if there’s too much discomfort. Less commonly, oral antibiotics may be prescribed.

If you or a loved one is experiencing ear pain and itching — especially if spending a lot of time at the swimming pool — it might be swimmer’s ear. Left untreated, the infection can worsen. So don’t wait. Contact our highly trained team at ENT, Sinus & Hearing Care Center for a comprehensive evaluation today.

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