What is Swimmer’s Ear?
Swimmer’s ear (acute otitis externa) is inflammation, irritation or infection of the outer ear caused by water getting trapped in the ear. This condition is called “swimmer’s ear” because it commonly affects swimmers. Children and teenagers are most prone to swimmer’s ear, but those with eczema or excess earwax can also suffer from it.
Water from any source can cause it — whether it's from bathing, swimming, showering, or even splashing in puddles or sprinklers. Bacteria in the skin and in the ear canal can multiply in this trapped water, resulting in an infection in the ear canal.
Other factors may contribute to swimmer’s ear, such as:
• Excessive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs or other objects
• Damage to the skin of the ear canal following water irrigation used for wax removal
• A cut in the skin of the ear canal (1)
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear?
Signs and symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:
• Itching in the ear
• Pain that worsens when you tug on the outer ear
• Feeling of blocked or full ear
• Decreased hearing
• Intense pain that “radiates” to the neck, face or side of the head
• Swollen lymph nodes around the ear or the upper neck
• Redness and swelling of the skin around the ear
How is Swimmer’s Ear Treated and Prevented?
It is important that swimmer’s ear be treated so hearing loss, recurring ear infections and damage to the bone and cartilage can be avoided.
In the early stages of swimmer’s ear, treatment includes cleaning the ear carefully and “use of eardrops that inhibit bacterial or fungal growth and reduce inflammation. Mildly acidic solutions containing boric or acetic acid [vinegar] ...” (1)
Your child’s doctor may prescribe ear drop antibiotics to help fight the infection. The drops usually contain a steroid to help reduce the swelling. Antibiotic treatment lasts about 7 to 10 days.