Swimmer’s Ear

What is Swimmer’s Ear?

‘Swimmer’s ear’ (in medical terms also known as otitis externa) is a painful condition where the skin in the ear canal becomes infected. ‘Swimmer’s ear’ commonly occurs when water gets stuck in the outer ear canal. It is a common condition among swimmers and water active people, such as surfers. Anyone can be exposed to getting ‘Swimmer’s ear’, even those who are not fully immersed in water, But having even just a small amount of water in your ear can create the perfect breeding ground for bacteria to cause inflammation, irritation, and infection. The reason for this is when water gets stuck in the ear, ‘bacteria that normally sits in the ear canal’ can get beneath the surface of the skin causing ‘Swimmer’s ear’.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of ‘Swimmer’s ear’ can include pain, redness and swelling of the ear canal or an itchy feeling inside of the ear. Pain when tugging the earlobe, or when chewing food, is also a common symptom. It is said that some patients report temporary hearing loss or their ears feeling “full.”

What is the difference between Swimmer’s ear and Surfer’s ear?

Doctor Douglas Hetzler explains the difference between ‘Swimmer’s and Surfer’s Ear’, and the common confusion between both medical terms.

‘Surfer’s ear’ is the bone growth that occurs in the ear canal as the typical growth to cold water. Whereas, ‘Swimmer’s ear’ is caused from water being stuck in the ear canal which leads to bacterial infection. In more severe cases, Dr. Hetzler explains that some people can even get an overlap of both ‘Swimmer’s/Surfer’s ear’ at the same time. Dr. Hetzler also touches on a phenomenon where people that are in warmer waters, or on vacation, tend to spend more time in the water, thus leading to a greater risk of being infected with ‘Swimmer’s ear’.


Difference between Swimmer’s ear and a childhood ear infection?

‘Swimmer’s ear’ and a childhood middle ear are not the same condition. If you can wiggle your child’s outer ear without pain or discomfort than the ear condition is probably not swimmer’s ear. It is important to note that young children are often highly exposed to both conditions. It is best to consult with a doctor.

The Statistics

Studies have been made that indicate that at least 10 percent of the population will have at least one case of ‘Swimmer’s ear’ during their lifetime.

What to do about it

If you have symptoms, questions or concerns, it is best to consult with your doctor. ‘Swimmer’s ear’ is usually treated with ear drops and cured within 7-10 days.
As a preventive measure, wearing earplugs, keeping your ears dry and clean is the key to not getting ‘Swimmer’s ear’. Also, keeping objects out of the ear, for example, cotton swabs, will help prevent infections.


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