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Swimmer's ear (otitis externa) is an inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear canal. This is the channel leading from the outer ear to the ear drum. Water that stays trapped in the ear canal (such as when swimming) may:
It is more common in children but can also happen in adults. Many factors can raise the chance of getting swimmer's ear. One of the factors is too much wetness. This can occur with frequent swimming, but it can also happen for other reasons. Other possible causes include:
You are at a higher risk for swimmer’s ear if your outer ear is exposed to conditions that may harm the skin. This lets bacteria get into the skin. Devices that are routinely worn within the ear canal can cause damage and irritation. This includes hearing aids, headphones, or ear plugs.
If you are exposed to conditions that remove the protective layers from the skin, you are more likely to get infected with bacteria or fungus. For example, if you swim often, the moisture removes the protective layer of ear wax and softens underlying skin.
Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:
The symptoms of swimmer’s ear may look like other health conditions or problems. Always check with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Swimmer’s ear may be diagnosed with a medical history and physical exam. Your provider may also use a special lighted tool called an otoscope. This helps to view inside the ear. This will help your provider see if you also have a middle ear infection (otitis media).
Your healthcare provider may also take a culture of the drainage from your ear. For a culture, a sample of the draining fluid is treated in a lab to see what bacteria or fungi grow. The results can help guide treatment.
With proper treatment, swimmer's ear often clears up within 7 to 10 days. Your healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment plan for you based on:
Treatment may include
To help prevent swimmer’s ear:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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