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Swimmer's Ear Symptoms & Causes

swimmer's ear

What is swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, is an infection in the outer ear canal, which is the outer portion of the tube connecting your ear to the eardrum inside your head. Often, the condition is caused by water remaining in your ear after swimming, which can encourage bacterial growth inside the ear. Doctors often describe the varying degrees of the condition as mild, moderate, and advanced swimmer’s ear.

What causes swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear is most often caused by bacterial growth encouraged by water left in the ear after swimming. It can also be caused by pushing fingers, cotton swabs, or other objects into the ear. This can cause damage to the thin layer of skin that protects your ear canal, and result in infection.

What are the symptoms of swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear begins with mild symptoms, progressing on to moderate and advanced. The symptoms that suggest a patient may be suffering from swimmer’s ear include:

Mild Swimmer’s Ear

  • Itchiness in the ear canal
  • Redness inside or outside the ear
  • Drainage from the ear (clear and odorless)
  • Discomfort

Moderate Swimmer’s Ear

  • Intense itchiness in the ear canal and around the ear
  • Swelling
  • Brighter redness inside or outside the ear
  • Loss of hearing
  • Excessive drainage from the ear (thicker pus)
  • Full feeling inside the ear

Advanced Swimmer’s Ear

  • Extreme pain that spreads outside the ear to the face, neck, or side of head
  • Complete loss of hearing
  • Fever
  • Swelling that has spread outside of the ear
  • Lymph node swelling

If you experience any of advanced symptoms above, it is critical to contact a specialist, such as New York ENT, as soon as possible.

What are the risk factors for swimmer’s ear?

Factors that can increase the chance of developing swimmer’s ear include:

  • Swimming
  • Swimming in water with higher levels of bacteria
  • Improper cleaning of the ear
  • Wearing headphones, earplugs, or hearing aid
  • Allergies to certain hair products, skin products, or jewelry
  • Narrow or abnormal shape of ear canal

How is swimmer’s ear diagnosed?

Swimmer’s ear can be detected and diagnosed by an ear, nose and throat specialist at New York ENT, using a special instrument called an otoscope for viewing the inside of the ear. New York ENT specialists may opt to do further testing if damage to the eardrum is found or if a patient does not respond to initial treatment. Doctors may also analyze patient symptoms and medical history to help them make an accurate diagnosis. Once a diagnosis is made, patients will be offered treatment options personalized for their needs.

What options are available for swimmer’s ear treatment?

Swimmer’s ear treatments may include any of the following options, depending on the severity of the condition and the individual:

  • Cleaning the outer ear canal with a suction device or curette
  • Pain medications
  • Medication ear drops, made up of the following components:
    • Antibiotic to fight bacteria
    • Antifungal to fight infection
    • Acid to remove bacteria
    • Steroid to inhibit swelling

If you are suffering from swimmer’s ear, the first step towards feeling better is to schedule an evaluation with an experienced ear, nose and throat doctor. Board certified physicians with New York ENT have extensive experience diagnosing and treating a wide variety of ear-related conditions. Fill out the form on this page or call our office at (212) 873-6168 to schedule an appointment today.

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