Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)

Swimmer's ear is a bacterial infection of the skin of the ear canal.

An middle ear infection is cause by snot moving up the Eustachian tube, pushing behind the eardrum.

You don't necessarily have to be a swimmer to get this: any exposure to prolonged moisture, like bathing and increased humidity, or injury to the ear canal, like using Q-tips to clean your ears, can do it. The disease is a problem with the external part of the ear, the part before the eardrum, unlike middle ear infections, which happen behind the eardrum. And it happens because the moisture or injury erodes the protective ear wax and makes the ear canal vulnerable to attack. The bacteria that cause swimmer's ear are normally found in the canal, but only get to cause disease when the ear wax had been eroded.

Swimmer's ear shows up most commonly as pain, especially when you touch the ear. Even a little bit of inflammation can cause a bunch of pain. Sometimes the ear itches even before the pain starts. The outer ear gets red, and as the disease progresses, green goo can appear as drainage or crusting around the ear.

This isn't the same as the ear infections we usually worry about. Those require you to have a cold first, and with this, you can be feeling quite well when you start to get sick. And usually with the regular ear infection, there's isn't any pain when you mess with the outer ear. 

You need to call us for an appointment so we can get you on the right medication. We don't usually treat this over the phone. Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil for pain.

You can prevent it by:

  • not putting stuff in your ears, like Q-tips (nothing smaller than your elbow in your ears!)
  • wearing ear plugs when you are swimming
  • making sure you don't put anything that may cause an allergic reaction of the skin
  • of the ear canal, like hair dye, hair spray or other chemicals