Understanding Swimmer’s Ear

Swimming in your backyard. Spending the day on the lake. Taking a few laps at the gym pool. You might be enjoying yourself and getting some exercise, but you still need to be aware of your ears. Commonly known as “Swimmer’s Ear,” otitis externa is an ear infection caused by leaving contaminated water in the ear after swimming. The infection occurs in the outer ear canal and can cause pain and discomfort for swimmers of all ages, however it is more common in children and can be extremely painful. But, how do you know it’s Swimmer’s Ear, and how do you prevent it? Our ENTs at Arkansas Otolaryngology Center of Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Benton breakdown the ins-and-outs of Swimmer’s Ear so you can get back to enjoying the water:

What are the symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear? Swimmer’s Ear may be sudden and short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Symptoms typically begin showing up within a few days of swimming. The main symptom of Swimmer’s Ear is redness in the outer ear accompanied by warmth and pain, but symptoms also include:

  • Itchiness inside the ear

  • Redness and swelling of the ear

  • Pain when the infected ear is tugged or when pressure is placed on the ear

  • Pus draining from the infected ear

How does Swimmer’s Ear spread?

Swimmer’s ear does not spread from one person to another. Swimmer’s ear commonly occurs when water stays in the ear canal for long periods of time, providing the perfect environment for germs to grow and infect the skin. Germs found in pools and at other recreational swimming areas are one of the most common causes of swimmer’s ear.

How do you protect against Swimmer’s Ear? Keep your ears as dry as possible. Using ear plugs or custom-fitted molds when swimming, or a shower cap when bathing, are the most effective for keeping your ears dry. After being in water make sure to dry your ears thoroughly. First, use a towel to dry. Next, hold each ear facing down while tilting your head to let water escape the ear canal. Then, while in this position tug on your earlobes in different directions to help any excess water drain. Lastly, if you still have water in your ears, try using a hair dryer on the lowest settings several inches from your ear.

If you continue to have ear pain, discomfort, or drainage from your ears, contact your ENT. In some cases, you may be prescribed ear drops and advised to keep the ear dry. Drops should not be used by people with ear tubes, damaged ear drums, outer ear infections, or ear drainage (pus or liquid coming from the ear). Make sure you take care of your ears and keep them dry so your fun in the water isn’t interrupted this summer. For more information, or to schedule an appointment concerning Swimmer’s Ear, contact the ENTs at Arkansas Otolaryngology Center today!