What is swimmer's ear?
Swimmer's ear (otitis externa) is an infection of the skin of the cartilaginous portion of the ear canal. Because the ear canal is dark, warm, and capable of retaining water, it makes a perfect culture chamber for the growth of bacteria or fungus. The disease starts as a local infection in the ear canal (acute otitis externa) and can spread to cartilage and bone of the ear canal. When this occurs, it is called malignant external otitis. Facial nerve paralysis can result when the disease progresses this far.
What are the symptoms of swimmer's ear?
- Ear blockage
- Foul-smelling discharge
- Hearing loss
What conditions cause swimmer's ear?
Warm temperatures and high humidity are likely to promote infection in the ear canal. Trapping of water within the ear canal, trauma to the skin of the ear canal (from cotton swab abuse or hearing aid use), loss of the natural protection of ear wax, or exposure to contaminated water may also cause otitis externa.
How is swimmer's ear treated?
Cleaning the ear canal of accumulated debris is the first priority of treatment. Avoiding water exposure and the use of ear drops usually suffices to stop the infection. Occasionally, systemic antibiotics are necessary.
What can I do to prevent swimmer's ear?
The use of an alcohol lavage (cleansing wash) in the ear canal after swimming or when hearing aids are removed for the day can significantly reduce the occurrence of skin maceration (tendency of the skin to become worn down, weakened, or raw), which leads to infection. The alcohol lavage should consist of one quart of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol and one ounce (shot glass) of acetic acid (white vinegar).
When should I see a specialist?
If your infection fails to respond to antibiotic drops, or if you have lost your hearing, you may need to have the ear cleaned and treated by a specialist. Sometimes it is necessary to place a small sponge, called a wick, into the ear canal. This facilitates the delivery of medicated ear drops into the ear when the ear canal is too swollen to permit easy entry.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 8/14/2008...#8381
This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace
the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider.
Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
© Copyright 2013 Cleveland Clinic. All rights reserved.