Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa) - Topic Overview
What is swimmer's ear?
Swimmer's ear (otitis externa) is an
inflammation or infection of the
ear canal , the passage that leads from the outer ear to the eardrum. This
condition is called swimmer's ear, because it commonly occurs in people who have
been swimming. But other people can get it too.
What causes swimmer's ear?
You can get swimmer's
ear when bacteria or fungus grows in your ear canal. This happens when water,
sand, or other small debris irritates the delicate skin in the ear canal. Other
things that can irritate the ear canal include hearing aids, lots of ear
cleaning, and eczema of the ear canal.
Swimmer's ear is more
likely if you have a very narrow or hairy ear canal; live in a warm, humid
climate; have little or no earwax; have lots of ear infections; or have eczema
or dry skin. If you have had swimmer's ear in the past, you are more likely to
get it again.
What are the symptoms?
Swimmer's ear can be very painful. The pain can get worse when you touch
the earlobe or another part of the outer ear or when you chew. Other symptoms
can include itching, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and a yellowish or
brownish discharge from the ear. Your ear canal may be swollen. In severe
cases, the outer ear can be red and swollen too.
If you think you
have swimmer's ear, call your doctor to find the best way to treat it.
If you have diabetes or take medicine that suppresses your immune system,
swimmer's ear can cause severe problems. Call your doctor right away.
How is swimmer's ear diagnosed?
doctor can usually tell whether you have swimmer's ear by looking into your ear
and asking questions about your symptoms.
How is it treated?
Follow these tips when treating swimmer's
- If your doctor prescribed eardrops, use them as
- Talk with your doctor before putting anything in your
- Avoid getting water in the ear until after the problem
- Use a hair dryer to carefully dry the ear after you
- Take an
over-the-counter pain medicine like acetaminophen
(such as Tylenol), ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin), or naproxen (such as
Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to
anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious