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What is Swimmer’s Ear & How It is Treated?

Swimmer’s ear or outer ear infection transpires at the external opening of the ear canal. This canal joins the ear opening to the eardrum. Medically, this infection is termed otitis externa. 

Otitis externa or swimmer’s ear caused by exposure to excess moisture. It is typical in children, teens, or even adults who spend a lot of time in the swimming pool, hence the name, swimmer’s ear. This infection affects more than 3 million people annually. 

Causes of Swimmer’s Ear

Getting exposed to moisture while swimming, bathing, or even showering can increase the chances of getting otitis externa infection. It is because the leftover water inside the ear canal can become a host for breeding bacteria. Therefore, it is crucial to rinse out all water from your ears. Your ears can also get infected if the skin that lines your ear canal gets injured. 

Harsh scratching, prolonged use of headphones, or putting cotton swabs inside your ear can harm this fragile skin. This inflamed skin can act as a ground for bacteria. Constant exposure to moisture can also hinder the earwax’s natural abilities to fight infections, making ear conditions more likely.

Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear

Every individual is different and can get different signs. Symptoms of swimmer’s ear may include:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Burning sensation
  • Earache
  • Discharge of pus
  • Itching
  • Extreme fluid drainage
  • Muffled or no hearing

Extreme pain in the face, head, or neck indicates that the infection has advanced extensively. Likewise, signs accompanied by a fever or swollen lymph nodes may also demonstrate progressing infection conditions. If you encounter ear pain with the symptoms mentioned above, see your doctor immediately. 

Diagnosis of Swimmer’s Ear

Your primary care physician will test for an otitis externa during a visit. However, if your condition persists for longer than anticipated, you might require further testing. 

Initial Testing

Initially, your doctor will diagnose based on the symptoms you report, questions they inquire about, and a physical examination. Lab tests are usually not needed on your first visit. The initial evaluation includes: 

  • Examination of the Ear Canal 

It is conducted with a lighted tool called an otoscope. Your ear canal might seem red, swollen, and scaly. There might also be skin flakes or debris in the ear canal due to the infection. 

  • Examining the Tympanic Membrane or Eardrum 

Doctors examine it to ensure that it is not damaged. If the view is blocked, the doctor will use a suction device with a tiny loop to clear all the wax and get a better sight of the eardrum. 

Additional Testing

According to the results of your initial examination, symptom harshness, and the stage of your swimmer’s ear, your primary care physician might suggest additional testing. It includes sending a fluid sample from your ear to the lab for fungus and bacteria testing. It is required if: 

  • The Eardrum Damaged/Torn 

If your eardrum is torn, your physician will likely refer you to an ENT specialist. The specialist will inspect your middle ear to determine the main site of the infection. This assessment is necessary because your treatment depends on its results. 

  • Infection is Persistent 

If the infection persists after the medication, your doctor might take a sample of your ear discharge for further testing and send it to a lab to determine which microorganism is driving your infection.


The treatment is advised to clean and heal your ear canal. 


Cleaning is crucial to help eardrops reach all infected areas. Your doctor will use a suction device to clean away discharge, clusters of earwax, flaky dead skin cells, and other types of contamination.


Mostly for swimmer’s ear, doctors give eardrops depending on the type and severity of your infection. These eardrops have the following ingredients: 

  • An acidic solution to restore your ear’s typical antibacterial conditions
  • Steroids to decrease inflammation
  • Antibiotics to resist bacteria
  • Antifungal medication to fight fungus infection
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Use the eardrops as per your doctor’s guidelines. Some of the most effective ways of utilizing eardrop are: 

  • You can reduce the discomfort by holding the bottle in your hand for a few minutes as it will help bring its temperature near to your body temperature.
  • You should lay on your side with your infected ear up for a few minutes. This way, the medication travels through your ear canal quickly and thoroughly. 
  • Ask someone else to put eardrops in your infected ear. 

If your ear canal blocked, your doctor will insert a wick made of cotton or gauze to drain excess fluids and help pass the medicated eardrops into your ear canal. Moreover, if the infection is severe and does not respond well to eardrop, your doctor will put you on oral antibiotics.

Medications for Earache

The discomfort of the swimmer’s ear can be dealt with over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, or acetaminophen. However, your doctor can prescribe a stronger medication for pain relief for a more advanced swimmer’s ear infection.

It is always better to consult a specialist for better guidance. Book an appointment with the ENT Specialist in Karachi through Marham for more information.

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