Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
 

Swimmer's Ear

Swimmer's Ear

What is otitis externa?

Picture of two young girls giggling by the side of the pool

Otitis externa, also called swimmer's ear, is an inflammation, irritation, or infection of the external ear canal. Swimmer's ear is caused by fungi or bacteria. Water that remains trapped in the ear canal (when swimming, for example) may provide a source for the growth of bacteria and fungi.

What causes swimmer's ear?

Many different factors can increase your child's 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:

What are the symptoms of swimmer's ear?

The following are the most common symptoms of swimmer's ear. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of swimmer's ear may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your child's health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is swimmer's ear diagnosed?

Swimmer's ear may be diagnosed with a complete medical history and physical examination by your child's health care provider. Your child's provider 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 child's provider 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 children may have both types of infections.

Your child's health care provider may also take a culture of the drainage from the ear to help determine proper treatment.

Treatment of swimmer's ear

Swimmer's ear, when properly treated by a health care provider, usually clears up within seven to 10 days. Specific treatment for swimmer's ear will be determined by your child's health care provider based on:

Treatment may include:

Preventing swimmer's ear

The following are some hints to help prevent swimmer's ear:

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