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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Diseases and Conditions > Swimmer's Ear
      Category : Health Centers > Ears and Hearing Disorders

Swimmer's Ear

Alternate Names : Acute Otitis Externa, External Canal Infection

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors | Symptoms & Signs | Diagnosis & Tests | Prevention & Expectations | Treatment & Monitoring

Swimmer's ear is an inflammation or infection of the tissues of the outer ear and the external ear canal. The ear canal is the narrow tube that extends from the outer ear to the eardrum.

What is going on in the body?

Swimmer's ear is an inflammation or infection of the outer ear and the external canal. The ear canal contains glands that produce oil, sweat, and ear wax. Ear wax helps maintain an acidic environment in the ear canal.

If the ear canal loses its acidity, bacteria can grow more easily. Some people, such as individuals with diabetes, have a less acid environment. A wet environment in the ear canal also makes it a breeding ground for bacteria. Water that is left in the ear after swimming or bathing can promote infection.

What are the causes and risks of the infection?

Conditions that can lead to swimmer's ear include:

  • benign ear growths in the ear canal that do not allow water to drain out effectively
  • chronic otitis externa, or chronic irritation of the ear canal
  • dermatitis due to allergic reactions to hair spray, dyes, or other chemicals
  • dermatitis due to conditions such as psoriasis and eczema
  • lower levels of acidity in the ear wax, such as in people with diabetes
  • using cotton-tipped swabs, which may injure the ear canal or pack the wax tightly
  • very narrow openings into the ear canal, such as in people with Down syndrome
  • water left in the ear after bathing or swimming, which is why it is also called swimmer's ear
  • Most episodes of swimmer's ear are caused by bacteria. Fungal infections may also occur in the ear canal, although they are less painful. These often do not respond as quickly to antibiotics and may require specific antifungal medicines.


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    Swimmer's Ear: Symptoms & Signs

    Author: Mark Loury, MD
    Reviewer: Barbara Mallari, RN, BSN, PHN
    Date Reviewed: 08/09/01

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