Swimmer’s Ear

Acute Otitis Externa (AOE), is a condition known as swimmer’s ear, it affects both males and females across a wide range of ages and is common in children. Most cases happen in summer months or in warmer regions due to increased water exposure.

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal, which is a slender canal about one-inch long that leads from the outer ear to the eardrum.  Symptoms of swimmer’s ear can include pain, redness, swelling of the ear canal and perhaps an itchy feeling inside the ear. Most common is a pain when tugging the earlobe or due to jaw movement when chewing food.  A concerning symptom for parents is that some children report temporary hearing loss or their ears feeling “full.”

Swimmer’s ear is an infection that occurs when water remains trapped in the ear canal. This moist environment is ideal for the growth of bacteria. Some patients get swimmer’s ear from swimming, although it can happen from bathing, showering or sweating.  Other common links that may prompt this condition are allergies, wearing hearing aids, having skin conditions such as eczema even the use of hairspray.  It has been documented that a lack of earwax, possibly due to aggressive cleaning with cotton swabs cause swimmer’s ear.  Earwax limits the growth of bacteria and is a natural barrier to moisture, the removal of this protection leads to a more vulnerable ear canal.  Swimmers in pools, lakes and streams with poor water quality are more likely to get swimmer’s ear.

It is important to seek medical attention quickly after symptoms appear, which will help with the effectiveness of treatment. To delay treatment can be very painful and may temporarily affect hearing. If left untreated, swimmer’s ear could spread beyond the ear canal, lead to a chronic infection or may cause permanent damage the ear.

Swimmer’s ear is easily diagnosed through a physical examination and checking of the patient’s medical history by the physicians at Oklahoma Otolaryngology Associates. After examination of the ears using a device called an otoscope, the physician can exclude any other causes of the patient’s symptoms, such as excessive ear wax or infection in the middle ear.  The physician may also clean the inside of the ear canal and take a sample of drainage from the ear, if present.