Swimmer’s ear, or its medical name of otitis externa, is an infection in the outer ear canal, which runs from your eardrum to the outside of your head.
It can be an unwelcome souvenir of hours of swimming, both in the pool and ocean (although you can get it on dry land too), and while the symptoms usually start mild, the infection can be painful for some.
In this article, we take a deep dive into what causes swimmer’s ear, how to treat it and how you can prevent getting it in the first place.
Swimmer’s ear is inflammation, infection or irritation in the outer ear canal.
It usually occurs when water gets trapped in your ear, which can then cause the spread of bacteria or fungal organisms.
Because this condition commonly affects swimmers, it is known as swimmer’s ear. Although, those who have eczema or experience excess earwax can also suffer from swimmer’s ear.
Swimmer’s ear usually gets better quickly with treatment and there are several measures you can do to prevent swimmers ear. If you are experiencing pain in your ears, you should consult your doctor.
Swimmer’s ear is caused by a bacterial infection. You are at an increased risk of getting swimmer’s ear if you regularly get water in the ear, such as when going swimming, however, it can be caused by a number of non-swimming-related reasons.
When swimmers get swimmer’s ear, it’s likely to have been caused by the ear being immersed in water for long periods of time, increasing the chance of (1) dirty water delivering bacteria to the ear canal and, (2) a constantly wet ear canal becoming prone to dermatitis, a contributor to swimmer’s ear.
Other causes include:
There are many symptoms of swimmer’s ear, so if you experience any of these, it would be worth seeing a doctor early for treatment:
If you think you might have swimmer’s ear, you should consult your doctor and they will examine your ear canal and tympanic membrane to ensure it is not torn or damaged.
Treatment for swimmers ear depends on the severity of it but may include:
Once treatment has started, you will usually see an improvement within one to three days.
During treatment for swimmers ear you should:
To ensure your love of swimming isn’t interrupted by an annoying case of swimmer’s ear, prevention is the best medicine.
The following measures will reduce your chances of getting swimmer’s ear:
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