A Guide to the Causes and Symptoms of Swimmer's Ear

May 7th 2016

Both mild and severe cases of swimmer's ear can cause intense pain. Physicians may recommend pain medication in addition to treatment options to help reduce the discomfort or feeling of fullness in the ear. It is important to consult with a physician prior to administering any type of treatment.


A swimmer's ear infection is commonly caused by moisture that gets trapped in the ear canal after swimming; taking a shower or bath; or residing in a moist environment. Additional causes include contact with bacteria present in polluted water or hot tubs and contact with chemicals such as hair dye or hair spray. A cut within the skin of the ear canal and excessive cleaning within the ear canal with cotton swabs may also cause swimmer's ear. You can develop the condition if you damage the skin in the ear canal while removing wax with water irrigation or possess a kin condition such as seborrhea or eczema.


Pain and itching in the ear is the most common symptom of swimmer's ear. You may notice the pain worsens when you tug on the outer ear. Some people also experience drainage and a sensation of the ear feeling full or blocked. Your hearing may be decreased, and you may develop a fever with swimmer's ear. Some patients experience intense pain that spreads to the side of the head, neck or face, while others develop swollen lymph nodes in the upper neck or around the ear that produces swelling and redness of the skin near the ear.


Treatment for swimmer's ear is recommended. Not treating an infection can cause hearing loss or recurring ear infections. You may also develop cartilage and bone damage when swimmer's ear is not treated.


Treatment for mild cases of swimmer's ear include cleaning of the ear canal and prescription ear drops that reduce inflammation by inhibiting fungal or bacterial growth. Most ear drops for swimmer's ear contain acetic acid or boric acid to fight the infection. Home remedies can be used in consultation with a physician. For example, some patients who do not have a perforated eardrum or tubes in the ear create ear drops by mixing half vinegar and half rubbing alcohol to keep the ears dry and evaporate excess water in the ear canal. Patients with severe cases of swimmer's ear are typically prescribed antibiotics to eliminate the bacterial growth.


Swimmer's ear, also known as acute otitis externa, is a condition that results from infection, irritation and inflammation of the outer ear. You may experience this condition if bacteria enters the ear or water is trapped within the ear canal. Swimmers, who are frequently in the water, are more commonly affected by the condition, which is how the term "swimmer's ear" developed.

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