Swimmer's ear, also called otitis externa, is an infection of the outer ear canal. Swimmer's ear is either caused by a fungus or bacteria. Water that remains trapped in the ear canal (when swimming, for example) can provide a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi.
Many different factors can increase the chance of developing swimmer's ear. As the name implies, one of the factors is excessive wetness as with swimming, although it can occur without swimming. Other possible causes of this infection include the following:
being in warm, humid places
harsh cleaning of the ear canal
trauma to the ear canal
dry ear canal skin
foreign body in the ear canal
lack of cerumen (ear wax)
eczema and other forms of dermatitis
The following are the most common symptoms of swimmer's ear. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
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
conductive hearing loss
The symptoms of swimmer's ear may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.
Swimmer's ear may be diagnosed with a complete medical history and physical examination by your physician. Your physician may use an otoscope, a lighted instrument that helps to examine the ear and to aid in the diagnosis of ear disorders. This will help your physician know if there is also an infection in the middle ear, called otitis media. Although this infection usually does not occur with swimmer's ear, some individuals may have both types of infections.
Your physician may also take a culture of the drainage from the ear to help determine proper treatment.
Swimmer's ear, when properly treated by a physician, usually clears up within seven to 10 days. Specific treatment for swimmer's ear will be determined by your physician based on:
your age, overall health, and medical history
extent of the condition
your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
expectations for the course of the condition
your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
antibiotic ear drops or oral antibiotics
corticosteroid ear drops (to help decrease the swelling)
keeping the ear dry, as directed by your physician
a wick (a piece of sponge may be placed in your ear if there is a lot of swelling. This wick helps the antibiotic drops work more effectively in the ear canal.)
The following are some hints to help prevent swimmer's ear:
Place two to three drops of a mixture of vinegar/isopropyl alcohol/water into your ear after the ears come in contact with water.
Use ear plugs for swimming or bathing.
Do not aggressively clean your ear canal.
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