Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Ear Infection Health Center

Font Size

Avoid Antibiotics in Pill Form for 'Swimmer's Ear'

Instead, use antibacterial or antibiotic eardrops, experts advise

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Randy Dotinga

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Feb. 3, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Anyone who's ever contracted "swimmer's ear" knows how painful the infection can be.

Now, updated expert guidelines stress that the condition is best managed by antibiotics or antibacterials given as eardrops rather than by antibiotics in pill form.

The panel at the American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery Foundation recommends that patients be treated with antibiotic eardrops, but only if necessary.

Swimmer's ear "may cause intense pain. Eardrops offer prompt relief, but about one-third of cases are treated with oral [pill] antibiotics, which are ineffective and promote resistant bacteria," Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, who helped draft the new advisory, said in a statement provided by the academy.

"The updated guideline expands upon prior guidance with new clinical trials, new systematic reviews and consumer participation, intended to optimize the diagnosis and treatment of this common disorder," Rosenfeld said.

Swimmer's ear, formally known as "acute otitis externa," is an infection of the outer ear that generally occurs when water becomes trapped in the ear canal and bacteria multiply, the experts explain. The condition is very common and affects about one in every 123 Americans each year. Besides swimming, people can contract swimmer's ear through trauma to the ear, stress, sweat and allergies.

Symptoms can include swelling, itching, hearing loss and pain, especially when tugging on the earlobe or chewing on food.

The organization issued the new guidelines Feb. 3 in the journal Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery.

Treatments include painkillers and a variety of types of eardrops, including some that deliver antibiotics to the ear. The problem with pills, according to the foundation, is that they're simply ineffective. The major types of bacteria that cause swimmer's ear aren't vulnerable to oral antibiotics, they noted, and not enough antibiotic firepower makes its way to the ear canal.

The guidelines do, however, note that oral antibiotics may be appropriate in some cases, such as when an infection travels outside the ear canal. Prompt assessment of the patient's pain, and recommendations for painkillers are also advised.

Today on WebMD

Ear Infection Slideshow
Earache Cold Ear Infection
Side view of child's ear
Syringes and graph illustration
Ear Infections When To Call A Doctor
woman cleaning ear
Ear Infections Medications
Ear Infections Surgery
24 Kid Illnesses Parents Should Know
Parker Treating Ear Infections
Ear Infections What Happens
Ear Infections Exams And Tests