- Swimmer’s ear is an infection that manifests in the outer ear canal, which is a portion of the ear that runs from the eardrum to the outside of the head.
- Due to its name, this condition often develops after swimming or from a bacterium that is found in water or soil.
- In this blog, the otolaryngologists at AOC explain how swimmer’s ear develops and what can be done to treat it.
Although swimmer’s ear develops most commonly after swimming and other water activities, it may also develop from cotton swabs, unwashed hands and fingers, or foreign objects being inserted into the ear. Also known as acute external otitis or otitis externa, swimmer’s ear occurs when a bacteria, commonly found in water or soil, enters the ear and creates an infection. Rarely, a fungus or virus may cause this infection.
To better understand how swimmer’s ear develops, it’s important to comprehend the anatomy of the inner ear and outer ear canals. The outer ear canals have a natural defense system that protects it from bacteria and viruses that cause infection. That sticky, brown wax in your ears is actually called cerumen, and it forms from a gland secreting the substance into your ears. Cerumen is slightly acidic, so it helps prevent bacterial growth and it collects dirt and other debris to prevent infection.
Additionally, the ear canal slopes downward to protect other parts of the ear from getting injured or damaged. This downward slope also helps drain water from your middle ear.
Now, back to swimmer’s ear: an infection is likely to occur from the natural defenses within your ears becoming overwhelmed. Excess moisture, abrasions in the ear canal, and hair or skin care product allergies may weaken your ears natural defense system, causing it to develop an infection such as swimmer’s ear.
Symptoms of swimmer’s ear may include one or more of the following:
- Itching in the ears
- Pain within the ear canals
- Discharge of pus or fluid drainage
- Decreased or muffled hearing
- Swelling of the lymph nodes in your neck
- Redness or swelling in the outer ear (severe cases)
- Fever (severe cases)
It’s important patients receive treatment at the first sign of an infection. Treatment for swimmer’s ear may require a combination of techniques, such as:
- Cleaning with doctor-prescribed eardrops or a suction device
- Prescription medication for infection
- Home remedies provided by doctor to reduce discomfort*
*In most cases of severe external otitis, studies confirm that the most effective immediate relief of ear pain is accomplished by a thorough, gentle ear cleaning performed by an otolaryngologist, followed by application of an appropriate antibiotic or antifungal if indicated.
If you or a loved one is suffering from swimmer’s ear, call an AOC location today to schedule an appointment with one of our ENT physicians! We will coordinate your care with a referring physician or with you directly. We look forward to meeting you!
Arizona Otolaryngology Consultants (AOC) is a comprehensive ENT clinic that provides care for all diseases of the ears, nose, throat, and sinuses. The physicians at AOC have the highest level of training and expertise in ENT care and ENT subspecialty care, which includes the management of pediatric airway, cancer, skull base surgery, advanced head and neck surgical and reconstructive procedures, craniofacial surgery and more. Call 602-264-4834 to request an appointment today!
The advice and information contained in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace or counter a physician’s advice or judgment. Please always consult your physician before taking any advice learned here or in any other educational medical material.