Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an inflammation from an infection of the external ear canal. Swimmer’s ear is most often caused by bacteria. It may also be caused by fungi. Water that stays in the ear canal during swimming, for instance, may let bacteria and fungi grow.
Many different things can make it more likely for your child to get swimmer's ear. Swimming or being in other wet, humid conditions are common causes. Other possible conditions that may lead to the development of swimmer's ear include:
Rough cleaning of the ear canal
Injury to the ear canal
Dry skin in the ear canal
Foreign object in the ear canal
Too much earwax
Skin conditions such as eczema and other kinds of dermatitis
Children are more likely to get swimmer’s ear if they:
Go swimming for long periods of time, especially in lake water. This is less likely in correctly maintained recreational pools or in the ocean.
Failure to remove excess moisture after swimming
Injury to the ear canal, such as cleaning it too often or scratching it
Use hearing aids, earphones, or swimming caps
Have skin irritation from allergies or other skin conditions
Narrow ear canal
Swimmer’s ear can cause the following symptoms:
Redness of the outer ear
Itching in the ear
Pain, especially when touching or wiggling the ear lobe
Drainage from the ear
Swollen glands in the neck
Swollen ear canal
Muffled hearing or hearing loss
Full or plugged-up feeling in the ear
The symptoms of swimmer's ear may seem like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees their healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Your child’s healthcare provider will ask questions about your child’s health history and current symptoms. They will examine your child, including the ears. The provider may use a lighted tool called an otoscope to look in your child’s ear. This will help the provider know if there is also an infection in the middle ear called otitis media. This infection often doesn't occur with swimmer’s ear. But some children may have both types of infections.
Your child’s healthcare provider may also take a culture from the ear drainage to help figure out the best treatment.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Swimmer’s ear, when correctly treated by a healthcare provider, often clears up in 7 to 10 days. Treatment may include:
Antibiotic ear drops
Corticosteroid ear drops
Keeping the ear dry
Complications of swimmer’s ear include:
Short-term (temporary) hearing loss from a swollen and inflamed ear canal
Ear infections that keep coming back
Bone and cartilage damage
Infection of the tissue around the ear
Infections that spread from the ear to the bones of the head or skull
Here are some tips to help prevent swimmer’s ear:
Use ear plugs for swimming or bathing.
Gently clean your child’s ear canal.
Dry ears well, especially after swimming.
Pull earlobe in different directions while ear is faced down to help water drain out.
Don't use cotton swabs in the ears.
Another tip to help dry the ears is to use a hair dryer set to the low or cool setting. Hold the dryer at least 12 inches from your child’s head. Wave the dryer slowly back and forth. Don’t hold it still.
Swimmer’s ear is also called otitis externa. It is an inflammation caused by infection of the external ear canal.
Water that stays in the ear canal during swimming may let bacteria and fungi grow.
Swimmer’s ear often clears up in 7 to 10 days when treated.
To help prevent swimmer’s ear, dry your child’s ears well after swimming or bathing. And gently clean your child’s ears.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.