Swimmer's Ear(Otitis Externa)

What is Swimmer's Ear? Is it the same as a middle ear infection?

Otitis Media or middle ear infections are not the same as Otitis Externa, more commonly known as "Swimmer's Ear". As I will explain, these two types of conditions differ with respect to not only the cause and symptoms, but they are also treated differently too.

Otitis means inflammation or infection of the ear and Externa means outer or external. The term Otitis Externa refers to an infection or irritation of the outer ear canal caused by bacteria or fungi that are commonly found in lake(fresh) or ocean water. Otitis Externa tends to occur less frequently after swimming in pool water, which technically is sterile because of the chlorine. However if the pool is not well chlorinated, Swimmer's Ear can occur after swimming in pools too.

Symptoms of Swimmer's Ear

This irritation/infection causes the following symptoms:

  • Pain(especially in the ear canal)
  • Itchiness of the ear
  • Oozing of pus or liquid from the affected ear
  • Pain worsens when moving the ear itself

How is Swimmer's Ear treated?

Again the approach is not the same as for a middle ear infection or Otitis Media which is treated by antibiotics taken by mouth. For Swimmer's Ear, antibiotic/anti-inflammatory drops are prescribed and placed directly into the child's ear. The treatment is usually for 5 to 7 days and the symptoms improve within a day or two of starting the drops. Swimmer's Ear very rarely causes any other more serious complications or problems.

Preventing Swimmer's Ear

The following are ways to help prevent Swimmer's Ear or Otitis Externa:

  • Wear bathing caps that cover the ear canal while swimming for prolonged periods in a lake or beach
  • Dry out the ear canal after swimming (gently passing a hair dryer over the ear may help)
  • Do not swim in pools that appear dirty or that are not properly chlorinated