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Swimmer’s Ear Infection – Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Written by

Jeanne Graulich
Jeanne Graulich
Jeanne Graulich, MA, CCC-A is an audiologist on staff to guide your hearing aid journey in a safe and practical way. Jeanne brings over 30 years of experience fitting hearing aids, specializing in fittings with adults. Her passion for improving communication and overall quality of life shines through in every interaction.

Swimmer’s Ear is the common term for Otitis Externa, an infection in the ear canal from the outer ear to the eardrum caused by a build-up of bacteria in a moist environment.  Water remaining in the ear after swimming, particularly in oceans, rivers, or ponds where the water is untreated, can develop into an infection.  Additionally, a damaged ear canal from a swab, bobby pin, fingernail, earplug, or hearing aid can lead to infection.  On occasion, an allergic reaction may result from cosmetic products or jewelry.  Symptoms include itchiness, redness, ear canal sensitivity, or clear odorless discharge.  Prompt treatment by antibiotics in ear drops or taken orally is prescribed by a doctor.  

If a mild infection goes untreated or is resistant to the prescribed treatment, symptoms can worsen resulting in increased pain, fever, swollen lymph nodes, inflammation-causing hearing loss, or spread of infection to the surrounding tissues or bones.   

Otitis Externa can be prevented by applying a designated over-the-counter solution before and after swimming.  After swimming or bathing, remove the remaining liquid from the ears initially by tipping the head to the side and gently pulling on the ear lobe and then drying the outer ear only with a soft cloth. A hairdryer can be used at the lowest setting one foot from the ear canal entrance.  Protect the ears with cotton balls when using hairspray or hair dyes.  Avoid swimming when bacteria levels are known to be high.  Consult with the treating physician after an ear infection or surgery before swimming resumes.