Otitis Externa (swimmer's ear)

Swimmer's ear is inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal. The medical term for swimmer's ear is otitis externa.

Swimmer's ear may be acute or chronic.

Causes
Swimmer's ear is more common among teenagers and young adults. It may occur with a middle ear infection or a respiratory infection such as a cold.

Swimming in unclean water can lead to swimmer's ear. Pseudomonas and other bacteria commonly often found in water can cause ear infections. Rarely, the infection may be caused by a fungus.

Other causes of swimmer's ear include:

  • Scratching the ear or inside the ear
  • Getting something stuck in the ear

Trying to clean wax from the ear canal with cotton swabs or small objects can damage the skin.

Long-term (chronic) swimmer's ear may be due to:

  • Allergic reaction to something placed in the ear
  • Chronic skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis
Symptoms
Symptoms of swimmer's ear include:
  • Drainage from the ear -- yellow, yellow-green, pus-like, or foul smelling
  • Ear pain, which may get worse when you pull on the outer ear
  • Hearing loss
  • Itching of the ear or ear canal 
Exams and Tests
The health care provider will look inside your ears. The ear canal area will look red and swollen. The skin inside the ear canal may be scaly or shedding.

Touching or moving the outer ear will increase the pain. The eardrum may be hard to see because of a swelling in the outer ear. Or, the eardrum may have a hole in it. This is called a perforation.

A sample of fluid may be removed from the ear and sent to a lab to look for bacteria or fungus.

Treatment
In most cases, you will need to use ear drops containing antibiotics for 10 to 14 days. If the ear canal is very swollen, a wick may be put into the ear to allow the drops to travel to the end of the canal. Your doctor or nurse can show you how to do this.

Other treatments may include:

  • Antibiotics taken by mouth if you have a middle ear infection or infection that spreads beyond the ear
  • Corticosteroids to reduce itching and inflammation
  • Pain medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
  • Vinegar (acetic acid) ear drops

People with chronic swimmer's ear may need long-term or repeated treatments to avoid complications.

Placing something warm against the ear may reduce pain.

Outlook (Prognosis)
Swimmer's ear most often gets better with the proper treatment.

 

Source: NIH  MedlinePlus