Ear, Nose, and Throat Medicine and Surgery Group

Swimmer's Ear

Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an infection of the ear canal; it can cause pain and/or itching within the ear canal The ear canal channels sound you’re your outer ear to your eardrum. It also serves to protect the middle and inner ear from foreign objects, such as bugs and water. The ear canal and earwax, called cerumen, is also responsible for protecting the ear form developing infections.

Symptoms and signs

There are many symptoms and signs of swimmer’s ear and they will vary depending on the degree of the infection. Consider seeing one of our ENT specialists if you experience any of the following:

  • Pain in one ear that gradually gets worse
  • Itchy ear canal
  • Ear drainage that may be clear, yellow, white or bloody with a foul smell
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Ringing in the affected ear
  • Dizziness
  • Low-grade fever

Causes and concerns

Often times, water can become trapped in the canal. Children and teenagers are the highest population of people who get swimmer’s ear, although, adults can also develop this condition. Statistics show that at least 10 percent of the population will have at least one case of swimmer’s ear in their lifetime. Swimmer’s ear can develop when water becomes trapped in the ear canal. The excessive moisture sets up a breeding ground for bacteria and causes an infection.

At-home treatment for swimmer’s ear

  • Try an over the counter pain reliever such as Tylenol
  • Over the counter ear drops (for swimmer’s ear) may also help

When to call the ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician

Swimmer’s ear is not usually considered a medical emergency; however, it is recommended that you see an ENT specialist if you have any concerning issues. Seek medical attention if you have:

  • Pain not controlled with an over the counter medication
  • Drainage from the ear, particularly if it has a foul odor
  • Swimmer’s ear along with a disease or condition that suppresses your immune system
  • Redness that goes from the ear and down the neck
  • A high fever
  • Decreased hearing
  • History of ear problems
  • History of ear surgeries

Solutions and options

If you have swimmer’s ear, you need medication for pain and inflammation (swelling). Additionally, the ear specialist will clean out the ear, especially if there is a lot of fluid draining from it. If the doctor believes you have an infection, he or she may prescribe antibiotics. In a week or two, you may have to return to the doctor for a follow-up visit to make sure your swimmer’s ear has resolved.