Illustration of the outer ear, ear canal and ear drum
Anatomy of the Ear

What is swimmer's ear (otitis externa)?

Swimmer's ear (also called otitis externa) is a type of ear infection. The infection occurs in the ear canal. Because the ear canal is dark, warm, and can hold water, it makes a perfect environment for water-loving bacteria and fungus to grow.

Why is this ear infection called "swimmer's ear"?

Otitis externa was given the nickname swimmer's ear because it most commonly affects individuals who spend a lot of time in water, such as swimmers.

What conditions cause swimmer's ear (otitis externa)?

Conditions that can lead to swimmer's ear include:

  • Water that gets trapped in the ear canal, for example from swimming or showering often
  • Loss of ear wax – a natural protectant – due to too much water entering the ear canal or removing too much wax when cleaning ears
  • Injury to ear caused by putting objects into the ear, such as fingers, pen/pencils, paper clips, hair clips
  • Swimming in polluted water
  • Other skin conditions that affect the ear canal, such as eczema or psoriasis

What are the symptoms of swimmer's ear?

  • Ear pain: pain that often gets worse when the outer ear is tugged or pressed on; pain can become intense and spread across the side of the face of the affected ear
  • Itching inside the ear canal
  • Bad-smelling or colored (yellow, yellow/green) pus oozing from the ear
  • Blocked ear
  • Redness and swelling in the outer ear
  • Temporary hearing loss or decreased hearing
  • Slight fever

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