Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa) Explained: Causes and Treatments in Ansonia, CT

Swimmer’s Ear, or otitis externa, is a painful condition affecting the outer ear and ear canal. This condition often results from water getting trapped in the ear, leading to infection, inflammation, or irritation. Swimmer’s ear is particularly common among swimmers, but it can affect anyone, especially those with specific skin conditions or those who frequently use ear devices like earbuds or hearing aids. In this blog post, we will explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for swimmer’s ear and provide prevention tips.

What is Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear canal, the area running from the eardrum to the outside of the head. It is often triggered when water remains in the ear after swimming, creating a moist environment that facilitates the growth of bacteria or fungi. The condition is most common in children and teenagers. Still, it can also affect adults, especially those with certain skin conditions such as eczema or seborrhea or those who have excess earwax or use hearing aids.

What Causes Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear can develop from various sources and activities, including:

  • Trapped Moisture: Water left in the ear canal after swimming, bathing, or exposure to moist environments can create a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi.
  • Bacteria and Fungi Exposure: Swimming in polluted water or hot tubs can introduce harmful microorganisms to the ear.
  • Excessive Ear Cleaning: Using cotton swabs or other objects can irritate or damage the ear canal, providing an entry point for infection.
  • Chemical Exposure: Products like hair spray or dye can irritate the ear canal, increasing susceptibility to infection.
  • Skin Conditions: Conditions like eczema or seborrhea can affect the skin in the ear canal, leading to a higher risk of infection.
  • Ear Devices: Ill-fitting hearing aids or contaminated earbuds can also cause or exacerbate swimmer’s ear.

Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear can range from mild to severe and may include:

  • Itching: Often the first sign of an infection.
  • Pain: Increases when the outer ear is tugged or pressed. The pain may extend to the neck, face, or side of the head.
  • Fullness or Blockage: A sensation that the ear is blocked or full.
  • Drainage: Fluid, often clear or yellowish, may drain from the ear.
  • Fever: Indicates a more severe infection.
  • Hearing Loss: Decreased hearing due to swelling or blockage of the ear canal.
  • Swelling: Redness or swelling of the ear and surrounding lymph nodes.

How is Swimmer’s Ear Treated?

Treatment for swimmer’s ear depends on the severity of the condition. Early intervention can prevent complications and alleviate symptoms effectively:

  1. Cleaning the Ear Canal: A healthcare provider can clean the ear canal to remove debris, wax, and discharge. This is crucial for the effectiveness of eardrops.
  2. Eardrops: Antibiotic or antifungal drops are commonly prescribed to treat the infection and reduce inflammation. Mildly acidic solutions, like those containing boric or acetic acid, can be effective for early infections.
  3. Pain Management: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help manage pain.
  4. Severe Infections: For more severe infections, a healthcare provider may insert a wick into the ear canal to help administer eardrops more effectively. If the infection spreads beyond the ear canal, oral antibiotics may be prescribed.
  5. Follow-up Appointments: Regular follow-up appointments are essential to ensure the infection resolves and manage complications.
Doctor Checking Girl's Ear

Complications of Untreated Swimmer’s Ear

If left untreated, swimmer’s ear can lead to serious complications, including:

  • Chronic Otitis Externa: Recurrent infections that require ongoing treatment.
  • Hearing Loss: Temporary hearing loss during infection, with potential long-term impact if the infection is not treated.
  • Malignant Otitis Externa: A severe infection that can spread to the bones and cartilage of the ear, skull, or brain, particularly in older adults, diabetics, or individuals with weakened immune systems.

Prevention of Swimmer’s Ear

Preventing swimmer’s ear involves maintaining dry and healthy ear canals:

  • Keep Ears Dry: Wear earplugs while swimming and thoroughly dry your ears with a towel or hairdryer set on low, held at a distance, after exposure to water.
  • Avoid Cotton Swabs: Do not use cotton swabs to clean your ears; they can irritate the ear canal and push earwax deeper.
  • Ear Hygiene: Keep your ears clean and avoid inserting foreign objects. If you have excess earwax, seek professional cleaning.
  • Protect from Chemicals: Use ear protection to avoid exposure to harmful chemicals like hair sprays or dyes.
  • Maintain Ear Devices: Clean earbuds, hearing aids, and other ear devices regularly to prevent contamination.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

If you or your child is experiencing symptoms of swimmer’s ear, consider asking your doctor the following questions:

  • What can I use at home to manage pain?
  • Can my child swim while being treated for swimmer’s ear?
  • What is the best way to clean my child’s ears if they have excess earwax?

For professional assessment and treatment of swimmer’s ear, contact your local ENT specialist. At Naugatuck Valley ENT, we provide comprehensive care for ear conditions. Schedule an appointment by calling (203) 578-4630.

Swimmer’s ear is a manageable condition with proper treatment and care. By understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and following preventive measures, you can protect your ears and enjoy a healthier, pain-free lifestyle.


The medical team at Naugatuck Valley ENT can help your child with their ear, nose or throat condition. Our specialists are qualified to meet the needs from the routine to the complex. Our physicians are otolaryngologists (ENT doctors) while our nurses, technicians, and other clinical specialists are specially trained in pediatric ear, nose, and throat care. We cover a range of Pediatric ENT conditions of the ear, nose and throat. Please contact Naugatuck Valley ENT at (203) 578-4630 to set up an appointment for your child.

Pediatric ENT Services

Pediatric ENT

If your child is experiencing an ear, nose or throat issue, don’t let it hinder their health and well-being any longer. At Naugatuck Valley ENT, we have the expertise and resources to diagnose, treat, and manage pediatric ENT conditions effectively. Our dedicated team of professionals is ready to care for your child and resolve any issue they may be having. Contact us today at (203) 578-4630 to schedule a consultation.

Ear Conditions Services

Ear Conditions

We treat many types of ear conditions, many of them some form of ear infection. If you decide to come in to meet the Naugatuck Valley ENT team to have your condition diagnosed, we will provide recommended treatment for an ear infection or ear condition. The treatment will depend on the patient’s age and the severity of the condition. If you or your child is experiencing ear pain with a fever, please call our office immediately to make an appointment. You can contact Naugatuck Valley ENT at (203) 578-4630.