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Swimmer’s Ear

Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention Tips

Swimmer’s ear, medically known as otitis externa, is an inflammation or infection of the outer ear canal, which runs from the eardrum to the outside of the head. It’s commonly called swimmer’s ear because it is often caused by water that remains in the ear after swimming, creating a moist environment that aids bacterial growth.

Causes and Risk Factors

Swimmer’s ear can be caused by several factors:

  • Moisture: Water trapped in the ear canal is the primary cause, as it softens the skin and makes it more susceptible to infection.
  • Mechanical Damage: Cleaning the ears with cotton swabs or inserting other objects can scratch the ear canal, making it easier for bacteria or fungi to penetrate.
  • Chemical Irritation: Hair sprays, dyes, and other chemicals that enter the ear canal can irritate the skin and contribute to the condition.
  • Skin Conditions: People with eczema or psoriasis are more prone to developing otitis externa.
Swimmer's ear. Otitis externa is inflammation of the ear canal. bacteria that cause this disease. Close up of Staphylococcus aureus. Human anatomy. Vector illustration for medical use., Boulder Colorado


The symptoms of swimmer’s ear vary depending on the severity but typically include:

  • Ear Pain: Often severe and gets worse when the outer ear is pulled or the ear is chewed.
  • Itching in the Ear Canal
  • Redness inside the Ear
  • Drainage of Clear, Odorless Fluid: In more severe cases, this may turn into pus.
  • Temporary Hearing Loss: Happens if swelling or discharge blocks the ear canal.


Diagnosis of swimmer’s ear involves visual inspection of the ear canal by a healthcare professional. Using an otoscope, a doctor can check for redness, swelling, and any discharge. Sometimes, a sample of any discharge might be sent to a lab to identify the specific type of bacteria or fungus causing the infection.


Treatment for swimmer’s ear aims to clear the infection and alleviate symptoms. Common treatments include:

  • Ear Drops: Antibiotic, antifungal, or steroid drops to reduce inflammation and fight infection.
  • Pain Relievers: Over-the-counter pain relief medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help manage pain.
  • Keeping the Ear Dry: Avoiding further water exposure during treatment is crucial. Using a shower cap while bathing and avoiding swimming are recommended.


Preventive measures are key to avoiding swimmer’s ear:

  • Dry Ears Thoroughly: After swimming or showering, tilt the head to each side to allow water to escape the ear canal. Drying the ears gently with a towel or using a hair dryer on a low setting can also help.
  • Avoid Inserting Objects into the Ear: Cotton swabs and other objects can damage the ear canal’s skin.
  • Use Protective Earplugs: Wearing earplugs while swimming can help keep water out of the ears.


Swimmer’s ear is a common but preventable condition that can cause significant discomfort and potentially lead to more serious infections if not properly treated. Understanding the causes and implementing effective preventive measures can help reduce the risk of developing this painful infection.