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 (otitis externa)?

  • Ear pain: pain that often gets worse when the outer ear is tugged or pressed on; pain can become intense and spread across side of 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.

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy