What Causes Swimmer’s Ear and How Is It Treated?


Swimmer’s ear is an affliction of the outer ear that causes pain due to infection or inflammation from trapped water. Bacteria or fungal organisms grow and spread causing uncomfortable irritation. While swimmers may get this infection, the name is actually a misnomer as it’s found more often in people who aren’t swimmers. Anybody whose ears are exposed to moisture can potentially get the infection. It’s found most often in children and teens as well as adults with eczema or excessive earwax. You’ll need to see a doctor for swimmer’s ear treatments to reduce your pain level and rid yourself of the underlying infection.

What Are the Causes of Swimmer’s Ear?

The most common cause of this affliction is moisture caught in your ear canal. This can happen when you bathe or shower, swim, or simply get caught in a moist environment like a heavy rainstorm. Other causes include bacteria in hot tubs, an abrasion in your ear canal, chemicals in hair dye or hairspray, and irrigating or cleaning your ears with water or cotton swabs. The bacteria that inhabit the skin in your ear canal start to multiply in any trapped water, causing an infection. You should seek treatment for swimmer’s ear as soon as possible to prevent hearing loss, cartilage and bone damage, and to keep the infection from spreading.

What Swimmer’s Ear Treatments Are Available?

To treat swimmer’s ear, your doctor will carefully clean your ear canal and then prescribe ear drops that will hopefully inhibit fungal and bacterial growth to bring down the inflammation. Early infections benefit best from mildly acidic drops containing acetic or boric acid. If you’re someone who gets infections a lot, you can create ear drops at home using rubbing alcohol or a mixture of half vinegar and half alcohol to evaporate the extra water and dry the inside of your ears. However, you must see a doctor first to be sure you don’t have a perforated eardrum. If you’ve ever had ear surgery or an injured or punctured eardrum, the drops may not be safe to use.

If your infection is more serious, your doctor might suggest antibiotics that are applied directly to your ear. They can place a wick or sponge in your ear canal if it is swollen shut to help the drops reach their destination more effectively. If you have tubes in your ears, the physician may choose a topical treatment for infections limited to the ear canal or oral antibiotics to reach an infection below the skin. Swimmer’s ear is sometimes painful, so some doctors will prescribe pain medications too.

Physicians usually require follow-up appointments to re-clean the ear canal and replace a wick if needed. Don’t try to treat the problem by yourself. An ent doctor has years of experience and unique equipment that can treat swimmer’s ear and clean your ears safely. Your infection should clear up in 7 to 10 days with proper care.

Swimmer’s ear can be a painful and itchy condition that can turn into a serious infection. Oklahoma Otolaryngology Associates can provide treatment for swimmer’s ear so you can quickly return to health. 

Contact us today to schedule an appointment with one of our experience physicians in your area.  We have offices in Oklahoma City, Edmond, and Norman.

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