Swimmer's ear (otitis externa) is a redness or swelling (inflammation), irritation, or infection of your outer ear canal.
The ear canal is a tube that goes from the opening of the ear to the eardrum. When water stays in your ear canal, germs can grow.
This is a painful condition that often happens to children, and to swimmers of all ages. It does not spread from person to person.
Swimming in unclean water is a common cause of swimmer’s ear.
Other possible causes include:
You are at greater risk for swimmer's ear if you:
Each person’s symptoms may vary. The following are the most common symptoms of swimmer's ear:
The symptoms of swimmer's ear may look like other health problems. Always see your health care provider for a diagnosis.
Your health care provider will ask about your past health and any symptoms you have now. He or she will give you a physical exam. Your provider will look into both of your ears.
Your provider may check your ears using a lighted tool (otoscope). This will help to see if you also have an infection in your middle ear. Some people may have both types of infections.
If you have pus draining from your ear, your provider may take a sample of the pus for testing. This is called an ear drainage culture. A cotton swab is placed gently in your ear canal to get a sample. The sample is sent to a lab to find out what is causing the ear infection.
With proper treatment from a health care provider, swimmer’s ear often clears up in 7 to 10 days.
Treatment may include:
Your provider will give you instructions on how to use ear drops. Follow the instructions to be sure you get the right dose of medicine.
If left untreated, swimmer's ear may cause other problems such as:
To help prevent swimmer's ear, try the following:
To dry your ears well after swimming or showering, try these tips:
Your health care provider may recommend drops to help dry your ears.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
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