Swimmer's Ear 101

Posted on: 23 July 2019

With much of the nation experiencing some of the hottest days of summer thus far, heading to the nearest watering hole to go swimming is a common recreational activity. Unfortunately, getting "swimmer's ear" is a distinct possibility. Here is what you should know about this painful condition.

What Is Swimmer's Ear? 

Swimmer's ear is an infection of your ear canal. This is the long narrow tube that runs from your outer ear to your eardrum. Swimmer's ear is different than the typical ear infections commonly seen in the wintertime that are associated with the cold, flu, and sinus infections. This type of ear infection goes deeper and affects the middle ear beyond the ear drum.

What Causes Swimmer's Ear?

Swimmer's ear is typically caused by bacteria. While you can get swimmer's ear without ever stepping foot in a lake, river, or ocean, it is more common after swimming because these water sources sometimes have a high bacteria count. Occasionally, a fungus or even a virus will cause swimmer's ear.

What Are the Symptoms of Swimmer's Ear?

In addition to ear pain, which may be worse if you tug on your ear, you may suffer intense itching in the ear canal as well as on your ear itself. It may be hard to hear out of the affected ear and the sound will be muffled. Your ear may drain fluid or even a stinky pus as the infection intensifies. One or both ears may be affected.

Can Swimmer's Ear Be Prevented?

Earwax is in your ears to protect your ears from foreign invaders. Unfortunately, even though doctors recommend people do not clean their ears with cotton swabs or worse, hairpins or other sharp objects, most people still do.

When you remove the earwax, you are removing your ear's first line of defense. If you also scratch your ear when removing the earwax, it's even easier for bacteria to invade. In addition to not cleaning your ears, wearing ear plugs specifically made for swimming and only swimming in chlorinated pools can help prevent swimmer's ear.

How Is Swimmer's Ear Treated?

If you suspect you have an ear infection, visit your local urgent care clinic rather than waiting for a doctor's appointment. Swimmer's ear can become quite painful, and it is better to treat it sooner rather than later as the infection can spread deeper into the ear or elsewhere. Like most bacterial infections, swimmer's ear is treated with antibiotics. Usually, antibiotic ear drops are enough, but in bad infections, the doctor may have you take oral antibiotics as well.