Otitis Externa

What is Otitis Externa or Swimmer’s Ear?

Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear is an infection of the lining of the outer portion of the ear and ear canal (outer ear). This condition can be very painful and commonly occurs in swimmers, hence the name swimmer’s ear. The infection leading to Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear can be bacterial or fungal. The warm water trapped in the ear makes an ideal breeding environment for the bacteria.

Otitis Externa or Swimmer’s Ear

Children and teenagers are more frequently affected by Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear, the reason being children spend more time in water or swimming pools during vacations etc; although males and females of all age groups also suffer from this condition. However, professional swimmers are more frequently affected by Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear. Usually, Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear is easily diagnosed and resolves with home care treatments. If it persists, then a visit to the doctor is required. Individuals, who have a weak immune system, such as in diabetes, develop a more serious form of ear infection, known as Malignant Otitis Externa. This is a serious condition and is not related to swimmer’s ear per se and requires immediate medical attention.

Causes of Otitis Externa or Swimmer's Ear

Damage to the skin lining of the ear and ear canal causes infection as bacteria and fungi can easily enter the ear. Some of the reasons for the breakage in the ear lining barrier are:

  • Cleaning the ears with ear buds or other objects may damage the ear lining and also removes the wax which helps in protection of the ear.
  • Devices such as hearing aids, ear plugs and headphones etc. that are inserted into the ear canal increases the risk of developing Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear. 
  • Chemicals such as hair sprays, hair gel, bleaching agents, hair dyes and shampoos may enter the ear and cause irritation to the ear canal resulting in ear infection causing Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear.
  • Other infections of the ear and allergies can also cause Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear.

Symptoms of Otitis Externa or Swimmer’s Ear

  • Pain in the ear is the most common symptom of Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear.
  • Pain upon touching the ear.
  • Ear appears red in people infected with Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear.
  • There could be itching in the ear canal.
  • Discharge may be present which may be clear, white or yellow in color. The discharge may dry up forming crusts in the ear.
  • In severe cases of Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear, there may be swelling where the ear canal becomes obstructed.
  • Due to swelling and drainage, hearing is also affected in people with Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear.
  • Tinnitus.
  • Dizziness.
  • Fever is usually not present. If fever is there, it is very mild.

Treatment of Otitis Externa or Swimmer’s Ear

  • People suffering from Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear should avoid further exposure to water and other types of trauma to the ear.
  • Over the counter pain killers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen may help in pain relief.
  • Consult a doctor.
  • The doctor will first start off by cleaning your ear.
  • The doctor may take a swab or sample of the drainage for culture and sensitivity.
  • Antibiotic drops are prescribed for Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear. Oral antibiotics may also be prescribed if the infection causing Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear is severe and is spreading.

Prevention of Otitis Externa or Swimmer’s Ear

Prevention of Otitis Externa or Swimmer’s Ear

  • Always use ear plugs or shower caps during swimming or showering in order to keep the ears dry and preventing ear infections like Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear.
  • In order to prevent ear infections like Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear, one should dry the ears thoroughly after showering and swimming using a clean, dry towel, or a hair dryer.
  • Avoid using cotton buds or other instruments for cleaning the ear as that can damage the ear lining and lead to Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear.
  • Try to avoid using chemical substances in the surrounding region of the ears. Using plugs or cotton wool balls in the ears when using chemicals prevents the chemicals from entering into the ear canal.
  • Avoid placing objects in the ears that may damage the ear lining which in turn can cause Otitis Externa or Swimmers Ear.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD, FFARCSI

Last Modified On: May 16, 2016

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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