Swimmer's ear is inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal. Chronic swimmer's ear occurs when the condition does not go away or comes back multiple times.
See also: Swimmer's ear - acute
Ear infection - outer ear - chronic; Otitis externa - chronic
Causes, incidence, and risk factors:
Swimmer's ear (otitis externa) is fairly common.
Swimming in polluted water is one way to get swimmer's ear. Moisture makes the ear more prone to infection from water-loving bacteria such as Pseudomonas. Other bacteria, or fungi (in rare cases) can also cause infection.
Other causes include:
Signs and tests:
During the examination, the health care provider may find:
- The ear and ear canal look red and swollen
- The ear canal may have scaly shedding of skin
- Touching or moving the outer ear increases the pain
- It may be difficult for the health care provider to see the eardrum with an instrument called an otoscope
- The eardrum may look red
- The outermost part of the ear (the tragus) may be infected, and look red and swollen
The goal is to cure the infection, usually with ear drops containing antibiotics.
Other treatments include:
- Corticosteroids to reduce itching and inflammation
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to help relieve pain
- Vinegar (acetic acid) drops
If the ear canal is very swollen, a wick may be placed in the ear to allow the drops to travel to the end of the canal.
In elderly people or those who have diabetes and persistent ear pain or drainage, malignant otitis externa is a possibility. Malignant otitis externa is treated with high-dose antibiotics given through a vein (intravenous).
Chronic swimmer's ear usually responds to treatment. Treatment may be prolonged or repeated. If untreated, complications may develop.
- Infection of the surrounding skin
- Malignant otitis externa, which can cause bone infection, hoarseness, and difficulty swallowing
Calling your health care provider:
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
- You have symptoms of chronic swimmer's ear
- Acute swimmer's ear does not respond to treatment
Dry the ear thoroughly after swimming. People who swim often should consider wearing earplugs.
Swimmer's ear from any cause should be treated completely. Treatment should not be stopped sooner than the doctor recommends.
|Review Date: 10/15/2008|
Reviewed By: Daniel Levy, MD, PhD, Infectious Diseases, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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