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Swimmer's ear

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Infection of the lining to the ear canal is a condition known as otitis
externa or `swimmer`s ear`.
Swimmer's ear is an inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal. It can be associated with middle ear infection (otitis media) or an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold. Excess moisture inside your ear caused by these common infections can make your outer ear susceptible to infection as well.

Usually, self-care steps can relieve the symptoms of swimmer's ear. However, a severe case of swimmer's ear will require a trip to your doctor.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of swimmer's ear may include:

  • Pain or discomfort in or around your ear

  • Itching of your outer ear

  • Swelling in your ear or glands in your neck

  • Clear or yellow-green fluids draining from your ear

  • Feeling of fullness or stuffiness in your ear

  • Hearing loss

Swimmer's ear may also cause your outer ear to appear red with scaly or flaking skin. Touching or moving your outer ear (pinna or auricle) or the little bump in front of your ear (tragus) may increase the pain.


Causes of swimmer's ear may include:

  • Persistent moisture in your ear from swimming, bathing or living in a moist environment

  • Swimming in polluted water, which may expose your ear to an infectious organism

  • Skin breakage due to trauma to your ear from a foreign object, from scratching or rubbing your ear, or while cleaning your ear

  • Hair sprays or hair dyes in your ear, which can contribute to the growth of bacteria

Attempts to clean earwax (cerumen) from your ear canal, especially with cotton swabs or small objects, can irritate or damage the skin of your outer ear and cause swimmer's ear.

Risk factors

Swimmer's ear is common in children and in young adults. People with itchy ears or earwax buildup or blockage also are more susceptible due to excessive scratching or the breaking open of skin in the middle ear during cleaning. Fluid also may be easily trapped behind earwax after swimming. If you're an older adult or have an underlying medical condition such as diabetes, your immune system may be impaired, increasing your risk of swimmer's ear.


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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/15/08 02:22 AM