Swimmer's Ear

(Acute Otitis Externa)


External ear infections are often called “swimmer’s ear” because it can caused by water or bacteria within that remains in the ear after swimming.

Additionally, a scratch or abrasion within the external ear canal can permit bacteria or fungus to enter and develop into otitis externa. This would be part of the reason we generally don’t recommend Q-tip usage.

Otitis externa can cause itchiness, pain, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and the ear canal may become swollen or tender to the touch. Fluid will often drain from the infected ear canal skin in otitis externa.


The treatment is often a combination of cleaning the ear canal and antibiotics. Typically antibiotic drops are preferred over oral antibiotics since the concentration achieved in the canal is higher with drops.

The infection can persist if the ear is not cleaned, as the drops will not be able to penetrate. This is why seeing an ENT doctor can be crucial. Sometimes, the swelling can make it difficult for application of the drops, and a small sponge called a wick can also be placed to allow for better penetration.

In diabetics or immunocompromised states, this infection can spread rapidly and requires urgent medical care. This is particularly the case if other neurologic symptoms are present (ie. trouble speaking or swallowing).


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