Swimmer’s Ear: Causes, Symptoms, Complications and Treatment

When the outer ear canal, which extends from the eardrum to the outer ear, becomes irritated or inflamed, it is called swimmer’s ear, an often painful condition.The medical term for this infection is otitis externa or acute external otitis. Most of the cases occur in young adults and teenagers. It is common obtained after swimming, thus earning its name, swimmer’s ear. It is rarely in association with infection of the middle ear (otitis media) or upper respiratory infections.

Causes of Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear is caused by the remaining water present in the ear after swimming. The moist environment in the ear permits and promotes bacterial growth in the ear canal. Moreover, swimming in polluted water, such as rivers and lakes make the ear more susceptible to swimmer’s ear. Pseudomonas bacteria, water-loving bacteria, are the most common cause of swimmer’s ear. Fungi infrequently cause the infections. Some of other causes are the following:

  • Scratching the ear or the inside of the ear
  • Getting objects trapped in the ear
  • Putting finger or cotton sabs may also result to damaging the thin layer of the ear canal lining
  • Scratching the ear canal using sharp objects
  • Excessive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs
  • Allergic reaction
  • Bubble baths and shampoos
  • Inserting headphones in the ear
  • Heavy perspiration

Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear

The following are symptoms of swimmer’s ear. Symptoms are generally mild at first, which then progresses to moderate and advanced symptoms. If advanced symptoms are present, it usually becomes harder to treat.

  • Mild symptoms
    • Itching
    • Pain and discomfort in the ear canal
    • Redness of ear canal
    • Drainage of clear, odorless fluid
    • Moderate symptoms
      • More intense itching
      • Increased pain
      • Increased redness
      • Extreme drainage of fluids
      • Fullness feeling present in the ear
      • Decreased hearing
      • Pus discharge (sign of infection)
      • Advanced symptoms
        • Severe pain, which may have radiated to other parts of the head
        • Swollen lymph nodes
        • Redness and swelling of ear
        • Complete blockage of ear canal
        • Fever

Complications from Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear can be treated easily, but if not treated promptly, complications may arise, such as:

  • Temporary hearing loss
  • Bone and cartilage damage
  • Long term infection
  • Deep tissue infection

Treatment for Swimmer’s Ear

If treatment is given within onset of mild symptoms, swimmer’s ear can disappeared within a few days after initial treatment. Seek medical help if one suspects of swimmer’s ear.

  • Avoid further water exposure for the time being.
  • Heat may be applied to control pain. In addition, painkillers may also be taken.training-classroom1
  • Avoid cleaning ears too often to keep the earwax intact as it avoids debris from entering the ear
  • Doctors will usually prescribe medications for symptoms relief and antibiotics.

First aid training consists of teaching first aiders how to alleviate symptoms in many emergencies. Although swimmer’s ear may not be directly included in the course, knowing how to treat infections, pain and other similar scenarios can greatly help a victim in need for any case of medical scenario.


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