Swimmer's ear (otitis externa) is a redness or swelling (inflammation), irritation, or infection of your outer ear canal. The ear canal is a tube that goes from the opening of the ear to the eardrum. When water stays in your ear canal, germs can grow. This is a painful condition that often happens to children, and to swimmers of all ages. It does not spread from person to person.
How is swimmer's ear diagnosed?
Your health care provider will ask about your past health and any symptoms you have now. He or she will give you a physical exam. Your provider will look into both of your ears.
Your provider may check your ears using a lighted tool (otoscope). This will help to see if you also have an infection in your middle ear. Some people may have both types of infections.
If you have pus draining from your ear, your provider may take a sample of the pus for testing. This is called an ear drainage culture. A cotton swab is placed gently in your ear canal to get a sample. The sample is sent to a lab to find out what is causing the ear infection.
How is swimmer's ear treated?
With proper treatment from a health care provider, swimmer’s ear often clears up in seven to 10 days.
Treatment may include:
- Taking ear drops to kill bacteria (antibiotic ear drops)
- Taking ear drops to help reduce swelling (corticosteroid ear drops)
- Taking pain medicine
- Keeping the ear dry, as directed by your provider