Acute Otitis Externa

Acute Otitis Externa


Acute Otitis Externa (Swimmer’s Ear)

What is Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal, which is a slender channel about one-inch long that leads from the outer ear to the eardrum. Symptoms of swimmer’s ear can include pain, redness, and swelling of the ear canal and an itchy feeling in the ear. Pain when tugging the earlobe, or when chewing food, is also a symptom. Some patients report temporary hearing loss or their ears feeling “full”.

What causes Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear is an infection that occurs when water remains trapped in the ear canal. This moist environment is ideal for the growth of bacteria, and, in rare cases, fungus. Some patients get swimmer’s ear from swimming, although it can happen from bathing, showering, or even sweating. A lack of earwax due to aggressive cleaning with cotton swabs or small objects can cause swimmer’s ear. Earwax limits the growth of bacteria and is a natural barrier to moisture. Skin conditions such as eczema, and chemicals from hairspray or dyes, can also prompt swimmer’s ear.

          People swimming in pools with poor water quality are more likely to get swimmer’s ear. Some studies show that those with Type A blood may be at increased risk for swimmer’s ear.

What can you do?

          Seeking medical care quickly after the onset of symptoms will help avoid misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis and improve the success of treatment. Untreated swimmer’s ear can be very painful and can temporarily affect hearing.

If left untreated, swimmer’s ear could spread beyond the ear canal; lead to a chronic infection, or even permanently damage the ear.

How can you prevent Swimmer’s Ear?

               After treatment: Swimmers may return to swimming 2-3 days after completing treatment if the pain has gone away and they use earplugs. Inserting earplugs can help reduce additional moisture in the ear. Patients who wear hearing aids or use earphones should limit their use until pain and any discharge have stopped.

Other prevention tips: Using eardrops prescribed by your doctor shortly before or after swimming, at bedtime, or in a combination of times is one way to prevent swimmer’s ear. Keeping the ear canal dry after water activities can also help defend against swimmer’s ear.

             If your symptoms do not begin to improve after a few days with treatment you should inform you doctor to see if an office visit or change in medicine is necessary.

A doctor can review past treatment and explore further options to treat the condition.

Instructions on the use of ear drops:

  • If possible get someone to put the drops in the ear canal for you.
  • Lie down with the affected ear up. Put enough drops in the ear canal to fill it up.
  • Once the drops are in place, stay in this position for 3-5 minutes. Use a timer to help measure the time. It is important to allow adequate time for the drops to penetrate into the ear canal.
  • A gentle to-and-fro movement to the ear will sometimes help in getting the drops to their intended destination. An alternate method is to press with an in/out movement on the small piece of cartilage (tragus) in front of the ear.
  • You may then get up and resume your normal activities. Wipe off any excess drops.
  • Keeping the ear dry is generally a good idea while using eardrops.
  • Try not to clean the ear yourself as the ear is very tender and you could possibly damage the ear canal or even the eardrum.
  • If you do have a wick placed, it may fall out on its own. This is a good sign as it means the inflammation is clearing and the infection is subsiding.