Alternate Names : Acute Otitis Externa, External Canal Infection
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.