Swimmer's EarSummer is here, which means more time for sun and fun at the beach and pool! While swimming can be great fun and fantastic exercise, it’s important to be mindful of a very common, yet painful infection - swimmer’s ear.

What is swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, is a common infection of the outer ear canal running between the eardrum and the opening to the outer ear. This infection is frequently caused by excess water in the ear which creates a moist environment and aids in bacterial growth. Other factors that may cause infection include scratches or abrasions in your ear canal, or skin reactions and allergies. Prompt treatment can prevent further complications.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear are generally mild at first, but can potentially worsen if your infection isn’t properly treated or spreads. Common symptoms include:
  • Itching and slight redness inside the ear
  • Mild to severe discomfort made worse by pulling on your outer ear
  • Drainage of fluid
  • Decreased or muffled hearing 
More severe symptoms include pain radiating to the face, neck or side of the head, fever, and swelling in the lymph nodes located in your neck.

How is swimmer’s ear treated?

Swimmer’s ear can be treated by avoiding further water exposure, applying heat to the affected ear, and the use of over the counter pain relievers and nonprescription ear drops. Medical treatment is also available for swimmer’s ear, including prescribed medications, cleaning of the affected area, and at times, antibiotics, topical remedies, or anti-inflammatory agents.
How can I prevent swimmer’s ear?
Immediately following time in the water, gently dry both ears with a towel.  The use of over-the-counter ear drops with a drying agent after swimming may help prevent swimmer’s ear. To prevent further trauma to the ear, avoid placing objects in the ear, such as cotton-tipped applicators.
If you’re experiencing signs and symptoms of swimmer’s ear, contact the Pennsylvania Ear Institute to make an appointment with an audiologist.