Otitis Externa

What is otitis externa (swimmer's ear)?

Swimmer's ear, also called otitis externa, is an infection of the outer ear canal. Swimmer's ear is either caused by a fungus or bacteria. Water that remains trapped in the ear canal (when swimming, for example) can provide a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi.

What causes swimmer's ear?

Many different factors can increase the chance of developing swimmer's ear. As the name implies, one of the factors is excessive wetness as with swimming, although it can occur without swimming. Other possible causes of this infection include the following:

What are the symptoms of swimmer's ear?

The following are the most common symptoms of swimmer's ear. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of swimmer's ear may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is swimmer's ear diagnosed?

Swimmer's ear may be diagnosed with a complete medical history and physical examination by your physician. Your physician may use an otoscope, a lighted instrument that helps to examine the ear and to aid in the diagnosis of ear disorders. This will help your physician know if there is also an infection in the middle ear, called otitis media. Although this infection usually does not occur with swimmer's ear, some individuals may have both types of infections.

Your physician may also take a culture of the drainage from the ear to help determine proper treatment.

Treatment of swimmer's ear

Swimmer's ear, when properly treated by a physician, usually clears up within seven to 10 days. Specific treatment for swimmer's ear will be determined by your physician based on:

Treatment may include:

Preventing swimmer's ear

The following are some hints to help prevent swimmer's ear:

Stanford Medicine Resources:

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