Otitis Externa— Good-to-know Facts

US Navy 080818-N-4515N-154 Air Force Capt. Amb...
US Navy 080818-N-4515N-154 Air Force Capt. Amber Tyler, medical augmentee embarked aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Kearsarge (LHD 3), checks an infant for an ear infection at the Juan Comenius High School medical clinic (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Who doesn’t love to swim? I remember every summer when we were kids, our family would always go to the beach and have our usual summer swimming. It had always been an enjoyable activity for me. For one, aside from the fact that swimming is indeed fun, we also get to meet new friends whenever we go to different beaches which add up to the fun of playing under the blazing heat of the sun.

Afterall, swimming, surfing, diving and other water-related recreational activities are some ways to spend a wonderful vacation, right?  

Want an added bonus to  your fun? Swimming is  also one of the excellent ways to get physical activity while promoting a healthy lifestyle–it’s like hitting two birds with one stone!

With our country being surrounded by lots of available place for swimming (ocean, lakes, rivers, spas, and of course swimming pools), we have various options where to swim!

But wait! Before you jump into the water, make sure that the water is clean and safe to swim in. Have you ever heard of Swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear occur when one goes swimming in polluted water where water-loving Pseudomonas bacteria and fungi reside and the bacteria grows on the ear canal–(a passageway to the eardrum)– when water stays in the ear canal. When the water gets trapped in the ear canal, the bacteria that normally inhabit the canal multiply. This trapped water condition further promotes the growth of the bacteria, resulting to inflammation and swelling in the ear canal. Swimmer’s ear may be classified as acute or chronic.

Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa is an infection of the ear canal. It is quite different from a regular ear infection because usually, when children suffer from ear infection, its usually an otitis media (middle-ear infection). It is more common among teenagers and young adults.

One might think that swimming is the only cause of swimmer’s ear, hence the name, but no, actually there are other causes: using earplugs and hearing aids that are not cleaned properly puts you to a higher risk of acquiring this; excessive cleaning of the ears using cotton swab or anything else, injuring/scratching the ear canmal while cleaning it; chronic swimmer’s ear may be caused by chronic skin conditions like psoriasis, scalp dermatitis, allergies and/or eczema.

Symptoms include redness and swelling around the affected ear; itching inside the ear accompanied with pain when the auricle (outer ear) is touched; decreased hearing because of the feeling that the ear is blocked; yellow/pus like foul smelling drainage from the ear and sometimes, fever. If you experience or develop any of these symptoms several days after a swim, you better seek the help of a medical professional to help it get treated as early as possible. Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and may also take a sample of the discharge in the ear to test for the presence of bacteria or fungus.

People with acute swimmer’s ear is usually treated for 10-14 days with antibiotics (non-oto toxic). For infection limited to the ear canal, topical antibiotics are used while oral antibiotics may also be prescribed for infection that goes beyond the skin of the ear canal. Pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen are prescribed for pain. Corticosteroids can also be prescribed to reduce inflammation and itching. People however, with chronic swimmer’s ear may need repeated treatments to prevent complications.

But all of this trouble can be prevented with these simple precautions:

  • If possible, avoid swimming in polluted water.
  • When swimming, you can use earplugs to protect your ears.
  • Moisture in the ear promotes bacterial growth so it is important to keep the ears free of moisture during swimming.
  • You can have your ears periodically cleaned by an otolaryngologist for your safety.
  • Some say that mixing 1 drop of alcohol with 1 drop of white vinegar and placing the mixture into the ears after they get wet helps prevent bacterial growth.


So there, I hope you learned a little something from this! Safe swimming everyone!


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