Swimmer's ear is an infection in the outer ear canal, which runs from your eardrum to the outside of your head. It's often brought on by water that remains in your ear after swimming, creating a moist environment that aids bacterial growth.
Putting fingers, cotton swabs or other objects in your ears also can lead to swimmer's ear by damaging the thin layer of skin lining your ear canal.
Swimmer's ear is also known as acute external otitis or otitis externa. The most common cause of this infection is bacteria invading the skin inside your ear canal. Swimmer's ear is usually treated successfully with eardrops. Prompt treatment can help prevent complications and more-serious infections.
Swimmer's ear symptoms are usually mild at first, but they may get worse if your infection isn't treated or spreads. Doctors often classify swimmer's ear according to mild, moderate and advanced stages of progression.
Mild signs and symptoms
When to see a doctor
Call your doctor right away or visit the emergency room if you have severe pain or a fever.
Outer ear infection
Redness of the ear canal, draining fluids and discharge of pus are signs of swimmer's ear (otitis externa). Untreated, the infection can spread to nearby tissue and bone. ...
Swimmer's ear is an infection that's usually caused by bacteria commonly found in water and soil. Infections caused by a fungus or a virus are less common.
Your ear's natural defenses
How the infection occurs
Factors that may increase your risk of swimmer's ear include:
Swimmer's ear usually isn't serious if treated promptly, but complications can occur:
Preparing for your appointment
Because appointments can be brief and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to prepare in advance. Here are some suggestions to help you get ready for your appointment and understand what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
If you're experiencing any signs or symptoms of swimmer's ear, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared in advance, don't hesitate to ask questions about anything that comes up during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Doctors can usually diagnose swimmer's ear during an office visit. If your infection is at an advanced stage or persists, you may need further evaluation.
Treatments and drugs
The goal of treatment is to stop the infection and allow your ear canal to heal.
Medications for infection
Ask your doctor about the best method for taking your eardrops. Some ideas that may help you use eardrops include the following:
If your ear canal is completely blocked by swelling, inflammation or excess discharge, your doctor may insert a wick made of cotton or gauze to promote drainage and help draw medication into your ear canal.
If your infection is more advanced or doesn't respond to treatment with eardrops, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics.
Medications for pain
If your pain is severe or your swimmer's ear is at a more advanced stage, your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication for pain relief.
Helping your treatment work
Follow these tips to avoid swimmer's ear:
Last Updated: 2010-10-15
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