Elise C. Allen, M.D.
Swimmer’s ear is a painful condition that occurs when moisture trapped in the ear causes the ear canal to become infected.
Symptoms of swimmer’s ear may be mild at first, but can progress quickly. Symptoms may include:
The outer ear has glands that form a thin, water-repellent film on the skin inside the ear. Excessive swimming can cause this waxy coating to diminish, allowing water to enter the ear canal, where it remains, creating a moist environment for bacteria growth. Although called “swimmer’s ear,” swimming is not the only cause of this infection. Prolonged exposure to a moist environment, humid weather and heavy perspiration can also cause the condition. Other factors that may lead to swimmer’s ear include:
Swimmer’s ear can be prevented. It is important to swim wisely and remember to take days off from the water. Boys Town National Research Hospital recommends the following to help prevent swimmer’s ear:
Swimmer’s ear can be treated. If you have symptoms of this condition, schedule an appointment with a physician to determine the cause and to receive proper treatment. A physician may clean the ear using ear drops, prescribe infection-fighting ear drops or suggest pain relievers.
Do not let swimmer’s ear progress. If untreated, the infection can lead to temporary hearing loss, widespread infection, and tissue and cartilage damage.