Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer's ear, or external otitis, is typically a bacterial infection of the skin of the outer ear canal. In contrast to a middle ear infection, swimmer's ear is an infection of the outer ear.

Swimmer's ear, or external otitis, is typically a bacterial infection of the skin of the outer ear canal. In contrast to a middle ear infection, swimmer's ear is an infection of the outer ear.

Swimmer’s ear is an infection in the external ear canal, which runs from your eardrum to the outside of your head. It’s frequently induced by water that remains in your ear after swimming, creating a damp environment that helps bacterial growth.

Putting fingers, cotton swabs or other objects in your ears also can result in swimmer’s ear by harming the thin layer of skin lining your ear canal.

Swimmer’s ear is likewise called otitis externa. The most common cause of this infection is bacteria attacking the skin inside your ear canal. Generally you can treat swimmer’s ear with eardrops. Prompt treatment can help prevent complications and more-serious infections.

Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear symptoms are generally mild at first, however they may get worse if your infection isn’t treated or spreads. Doctors typically classify swimmer’s ear inning accordance with moderate, moderate and sophisticated stages of development.

  • Mild symptoms and signs
  • Itching in your ear canal
  • Minor inflammation inside your ear
  • Moderate pain that’s made worse by pulling on your external ear (pinna, or auricle) or pressing on the little “bump” (tragus) in front of your ear
  • Some drain of clear, odor free fluid

Moderate Progression

  • More extreme itching
  • Increasing pain
  • More substantial redness in your ear
  • Extreme fluid drain
  • Discharge of pus
  • Feeling of fullness inside your ear and partial blockage of your ear canal by swelling, fluid and debris
  • Decreased or smothered hearing

Advanced development

Severe pain that might radiate to your face, neck or side of your head
Total clog of your ear canal
Soreness or swelling of your outer ear
Swelling in the lymph nodes in your neck
Fever

When to See a Doctor

Contact your doctor if you’re experiencing any signs or symptoms of swimmer’s ear, even if they’re moderate.

Call your doctor immediately or check out the emergency room if you have:

  • Severe pain
  • Fever

Causes of Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear is an infection that’s normally triggered by bacteria typically discovered in water and soil. Infections caused by a fungus or an infection are less common.

Your ear’s natural defenses

Your outer ear canals have natural defenses that assist keep them clean and prevent infection. Protective features consist of:

  • Glands that produce a waxy compound (cerumen). These secretions form a thin, water-repellent film on the skin inside your ear. Cerumen is likewise somewhat acidic, which helps even more discourage bacterial growth. In addition, cerumen collects dirt, dead skin cells and other debris and assists move these particles from your ear. The waxy clump that results is the familiar earwax you discover at the opening of your ear canal.
  • Down slope of your ear canal. Your ear canal slopes down somewhat from your middle ear to your external ear, helping water drain out.

How the infection happens

If you have swimmer’s ear, your natural defenses have actually been overwhelmed. Conditions that can damage your ear’s defenses and promote bacterial development include:

  • Excess moisture in your ear. Heavy perspiration, extended humid weather condition or water that remains in your ear after swimming can develop a beneficial environment for bacteria.
  • Scratches or abrasions in your ear canal. Cleaning your ear with a cotton bud or barrette, scratching inside your ear with a finger, or wearing headphones or hearing aids can cause little breaks in the skin that enable bacteria to grow.
  • Sensitivity responses. Hair products or precious jewelry can cause allergic reactions and skin conditions that promote infection.

Risk factors

Elements that may increase your risk of swimmer’s ear include:

  • Swimming
  • Swimming in water with raised bacteria levels, such as a lake rather than a well-maintained pool
  • A narrow ear canal– for instance, in a child– that can more easily trap water
  • Aggressive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton bud or other objects
  • Use of certain devices, such as earphones or a listening devices
  • Skin allergies or inflammation from fashion jewelry, hair spray or hair dyes

Complications

Swimmer’s ear normally isn’t really severe if treated promptly, but complications can occur.

  • Temporary hearing loss. You might experience smothered hearing that typically gets better after the infection clears up.
  • Long-term infection (chronic otitis externa). An external ear infection is generally considered chronic if signs and symptoms continue for more than three months. Chronic infections are more typical if there are conditions that make treatment hard, such as an uncommon strain of bacteria, an allergic skin response, an allergic reaction to antibiotic eardrops, or a mix of a bacterial and fungal infection.
  • Deep tissue infection (cellulitis). Hardly ever, swimmer’s ear may lead to the spread of infection into deep layers and connective tissues of the skin.
  • Bone and cartilage damage (necrotizing otitis externa). An external ear infection that spreads can cause inflammation and damage to the skin and cartilage of the external ear and bones of the lower part of the skull, causing significantly severe pain. Older adults, people with diabetes or people with weakened immune systems are at increased risk of this complication. Necrotizing otitis externa is also known as malignant otitis externa, but it’s not a cancer.
  • More prevalent infection. If swimmer’s ear becomes necrotizing otitis externa, the infection might spread and affect other parts of your body, such as the brain or neighboring nerves. This uncommon complication can be deadly.

Prevention for Swimmer’s Ear

Follow these suggestions to prevent swimmer’s ear:

  • Keep your ears dry. Dry your ears thoroughly after exposure to wetness from swimming or bathing. Dry only your external ear, cleaning it gradually and carefully with a soft towel or cloth. Pointer your head to the side to help water drain from your ear canal. You can dry your ears with a blow clothes dryer if you put it on the lowest setting and hold it at least a foot (about 0.3 meters) far from the ear.
  • At-home preventive treatment. If you know you don’t have a punctured eardrum, you can use homemade preventive eardrops before and after swimming. A mix of 1 part white vinegar to 1 part rubbing alcohol may assist promote drying and prevent the growth of bacteria and fungis that can cause swimmer’s ear. Put 1 teaspoon (about 5 milliliters) of the solution into each ear and let it drain pipes back out. Comparable non-prescription solutions may be readily available at your drugstore.
  • Swim carefully. Look for signs signaling swimmers to high bacterial counts and don’t swim on those days.
  • Prevent putting foreign items in your ear. Never ever attempt to scratch an itch or dig out earwax with products such as a cotton swab, paper clip or hairpin. Using these items can load material deeper into your ear canal, aggravate the thin skin inside your ear or break the skin.
  • Safeguard your ears from irritants. Put cotton balls in your ears while applying products such as hair sprays and hair dyes.
  • Use caution after an ear infection or surgery. If you’ve recently had an ear infection or ear surgery, speak to your doctor prior to you go swimming.

Diagnosis

Physicians can normally diagnose swimmer’s ear during a workplace go to. If your infection is at an innovative stage or persists, you might require additional examination.

Initial testing

Your doctor will likely detect swimmer’s ear based upon symptoms you report, questions he or she asks, and a workplace evaluation. You most likely won’t require a laboratory test at your first check out. Your doctor’s initial examination will generally include:

  • Evaluation of your ear canal with a lighted instrument (otoscope). Your ear canal might appear red, swollen and scaly. Flakes of skin and other debris might be present in the ear canal.
  • Visualization of your eardrum (tympanic membrane) to be sure it isn’t really torn or harmed. If the view of your eardrum is obstructed, your doctor will clear your ear canal with a small suction device or an instrument with a small loop or scoop on completion (ear curette).

Further Testing

Depending on the initial assessment, symptom seriousness or the stage of your swimmer’s ear, your doctor may advise additional examination.

  • If your eardrum is harmed or torn, your doctor will likely refer you to an ear, nose and throat expert (ENT). The expert will examine the condition of your middle ear to determine if that’s the primary site of infection. This assessment is essential because some treatments meant for an infection in the external ear canal aren’t suitable for treating the middle ear.
  • If your infection doesn’t respond to treatment, your doctor may take a sample of discharge or debris from your ear at a later consultation and send it to a laboratory to recognize the precise microbe triggering your infection.

Treatment for Swimmer’s Ear

The goal of treatment is to stop the infection and permit your ear canal to heal.

Cleaning up

Cleaning your external ear canal is required to assist eardrops stream to all infected areas. Your doctor will use a suction device or ear curette to clean away any discharge, clumps of earwax, flaky skin and other debris.

Medications for infection

For most cases of swimmer’s ear, your doctor will recommend eardrops that have some combination of the following components, depending upon the type and seriousness of your infection:

  • Acidic solution to assist restore your ear’s normal antibacterial environment
  • Steroid to minimize inflammation
  • Antibiotic to fight bacteria
  • Antifungal medication to eliminate an infection caused by a fungus

Ask your doctor about the best technique for taking your eardrops. Some concepts that may assist you use eardrops include the following:

  • Decrease the pain of cool drops by holding the bottle in your hand for a couple of minutes to bring the temperature of the drops closer to body temperature.
  • Lie on your side with your infected ear up for a couple of minutes to assist medication travel through the full length of your ear canal.
  • If possible, have somebody assistance you put the drops in your ear.

If your ear canal is entirely blocked by swelling, inflammation or excess discharge, your doctor may place a wick made from cotton or gauze to promote drainage and help draw medication into your ear canal.

If your infection is advanced or does not respond to treatment with eardrops, your doctor might recommend oral antibiotics.

Medications for pain

Your doctor may suggest alleviating the discomfort of swimmer’s ear with non-prescription pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others), naproxen sodium (Aleve, others) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).

If your pain is severe or your swimmer’s ear is at a more advanced stage, your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication for pain relief.

Helping your treatment work

During treatment, the following steps will help keep your ears dry and prevent further irritation:

  • Don’t swim or scuba dive.
  • Prevent flying.
  • Don’t wear an earplug, hearing help or earphones prior to pain or discharge has actually stopped.
  • Avoid getting water in your ear canal when bathing. Use a cotton ball covered with petroleum jelly to secure your ear during a bath.

Last modified: May 8, 2018

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