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 after swimming, creating a moist environment that aids bacterial growth.
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 acute external otitis or otitis externa. The most common cause of this infection is bacteria invading the skin inside your ear canal. Usually you can treat swimmer’s ear with eardrops. Prompt treatment can help prevent complications and more-serious infections.
Swimmer’s ear facts
- Swimmer’s ear, or external otitis, is typically a bacterial infection of the skin of the outer ear canal.
- Swimmer’s ear can occur in both acute and chronic forms.
- Excessive water exposure and frequent instrumentation (usually with cotton swabs) of the ear canal are important causative factors.
- Early symptoms include
- itchy ears,
- a feeling of fullness,
- drainage, and
- Home remedies for swimmer’s ear include
- Take measures to keep the ears dry at all times. Use ear plugs or a cotton ball with Vaseline on the outside to plug the ears when showering
- Don’t scratch the inside of the ear because this may make the condition worse.
- Follow your doctor’s instructions for use of any medications
- Antibiotic ear drops and avoidance of water are frequently necessary for treatment.
- Proper ear care can avoid most infections.
What Causes Swimmer’s Ear?
A common source of the infection is increased moisture trapped in the ear canal, from baths, showers, swimming, or moist environments. When water is trapped in the ear canal, bacteria that normally inhabit the skin and ear canal multiply, causing infection of the ear canal. Swimmers ear needs to be treated to reduce pain and eliminate any effect it may have on your hearing, as well as to prevent the spread of infection.
Other factors that may contribute to swimmers ear include:
- Contact with excessive bacteria that may be present in hot tubs or polluted water
- Excessive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs or anything else
- Contact with certain chemicals such as hair spray or hair dye (Avoid this by placing cotton balls in your ears when using these products.)
- Damage to the skin of the ear canal following water irrigation to remove wax
- A cut in the skin of the ear canal
- Other skin conditions affecting the ear canal, such as eczema or seborrhea
What are the symptoms of swimmer’s ear?
- The most common symptom of swimmer’s ear is pain. Pain gradually begins over a day or two. The pain almost always involves only one ear. The pain is especially intense when the ear is touched or pulled.
- The ear canal may itch.
- The outer ear may be red, and in severe cases the ear canal may be swollen shut.
- The ear may drain. This drainage may be clear, white, yellow, or sometimes bloody and foul smelling. Some fluid may crust at the opening of the ear canal.
- With severe swelling or drainage, the person may have trouble hearing.
- Ringing in the ear (tinnitus) and dizziness or vertigo may also be present.
- Fever is generally not present. If there is a fever, it is not usually high.
What home remedies treatments help cure swimmer’s ear?
Regardless of the cause, moisture and irritation will prolong the course of the problem. Therefore home care for swimmer’s ear includes measures such as the following:
- Keep the ears dry. While showering or swimming use an ear plug (one that is designed to keep water out), or use cotton with Vaseline on the outside to plug the ears.
- Scratching the inside of the ear or using cotton swabs should be avoided. This will only aggravate the irritated skin, and in most situations will make the condition worse.
- A hearing aid should be left out as much as possible until swelling and discharge stops.
- Follow your doctor’s instructions for use of medications and do not stop using the medications until instructed to do so by your doctor.