The moist environment from water remaining in your ear after swimming or bathing can lead to this infection in the outer ear canal.
Swimmer's ear is an infection in the outer ear canal, which runs from your eardrum to the outside of your head. It's often brought on by water that remains in your ear, creating a moist environment that aids the growth of bacteria.
Putting fingers, cotton swabs or other objects in your ears also can lead to swimmer's ear by damaging the thin layer of skin lining your ear canal.
Swimmer's ear is also known as otitis externa. Usually you can treat swimmer's ear with eardrops. Prompt treatment can help prevent complications and more-serious infections.
Redness of the ear canal, ear pain, draining fluids and discharge of pus are signs of swimmer's ear (otitis externa). Untreated, the infection can spread to nearby tissue and bone.
Swimmer's ear symptoms are usually mild at first, but they can worsen if your infection isn't treated or spreads. Doctors often classify swimmer's ear according to mild, moderate and advanced stages of progression.
Contact your doctor if you have even mild signs or symptoms of swimmer's ear.
Call your doctor immediately or visit the emergency room if you have:
Swimmer's ear is an infection that's usually caused by bacteria. It's less common for a fungus or virus to cause swimmer's ear.
Your outer ear canals have natural defenses that help keep them clean and prevent infection. Protective features include:
If you have swimmer's ear, your natural defenses have been overwhelmed. The conditions that often play a role in infection include:
Factors that can increase the risk of swimmer's ear include:
Swimmer's ear usually isn't serious if treated promptly, but complications can occur.
Follow these tips to avoid swimmer's ear:
Earwax usually moves to the opening of the ear canal, where you can gently wash it away with a damp cloth. It's best to leave it alone and let earwax do its job.
If you have an excess of earwax or it's blocking your ear canal, you can do two things rather than digging it out. See your doctor or use an at-home cleaning method. Follow these steps for safe at-home cleaning:
Doctors can usually diagnose swimmer's ear during an office visit. If your infection is advanced or persists, you might need further evaluation.
Your doctor will likely diagnose swimmer's ear based on symptoms you report, questions he or she asks, and an office examination. You probably won't need a lab test at your first visit. Your doctor's initial evaluation will usually include:
Depending on the initial assessment, symptom severity or the stage of your swimmer's ear, your doctor might recommend additional evaluation, including sending a sample of fluid from your ear to test for bacteria or fungus.
The goal of treatment is to stop the infection and allow your ear canal to heal.
Cleaning your outer ear canal is necessary to help eardrops flow to all infected areas. Your doctor will use a suction device or ear curette to clean away discharge, clumps of earwax, flaky skin and other debris.
For most cases of swimmer's ear, your doctor will prescribe eardrops that have some combination of the following ingredients, depending on the type and seriousness of your infection:
Ask your doctor about the best method for taking your eardrops. Some ideas that may help you use eardrops include the following:
If your ear canal is completely blocked by swelling, inflammation or excess discharge, your doctor might insert a wick made of cotton or gauze to promote drainage and help draw medication into your ear canal.
If your infection is more advanced or doesn't respond to treatment with eardrops, your doctor might prescribe oral antibiotics.
Your doctor might recommend easing the discomfort of swimmer's ear with over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).
If your pain is severe or your swimmer's ear is more advanced, your doctor might prescribe a stronger medication for pain relief.
During treatment, do the following to help keep your ears dry and avoid further irritation:
Here are some suggestions to help you get ready for your appointment.
Make a list of:
Some basic questions to ask your doctor about swimmer's ear include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, including: