Otitis externa | Swimmer's ear

Otitis externa (Swimmer’s ear) is an infection in the outer ear canal, which runs from your eardrum to the outside of your head. It’s often brought on by water that remains in your ear, creating a moist environment that aids the growth of bacteria.

Otitis Externa Swimmer's Ear

Otitis externa | Swimmer's ear Causes

Otitis externa, also known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection or inflammation of the outer ear canal that typically occurs due to various causes. The outer ear canal is the tube-like structure that runs from the external ear to the eardrum. It is lined with delicate skin that is susceptible to infection and irritation.

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of otitis externa. One of the primary causes is excessive moisture in the ear canal. When water or other fluids get trapped in the ear canal, it creates a perfect environment for bacteria and fungi to thrive. This often occurs during activities such as swimming, bathing, or showering, hence the name “swimmer’s ear.” The moisture softens the protective layer of the skin, making it more susceptible to infection.

Another common cause of otitis externa is the insertion of objects into the ear canal, such as cotton swabs or fingernails. When you try to clean your ears using these objects, you can inadvertently cause small scratches or abrasions in the delicate skin lining the ear canal. These tiny openings provide an entry point for bacteria or fungi, leading to infection.

Certain dermatological conditions can also contribute to the development of otitis externa. People with eczema or psoriasis may have flaky or itchy skin in the ear canal, which can easily become irritated and infected. Additionally, excessive earwax buildup can lead to an increased risk of infection. Earwax is naturally produced by the body to protect the ears and prevent dryness. However, when too much earwax accumulates, it can trap moisture and bacteria, increasing the likelihood of otitis externa.

Allergies can also play a role in the development of otitis externa. Some individuals may have an allergic reaction to certain substances, such as hair products, ear drops, or jewelry, that come into contact with the skin of the outer ear. This allergic reaction can cause inflammation and irritation, making the ear canal more vulnerable to infection.

Other factors that can contribute to otitis externa include a weakened immune system, diabetes, skin conditions such as acne or rosacea, and certain systemic medical conditions like HIV or AIDS. These factors can compromise the body’s natural defense mechanisms, making it easier for infections to occur.

It is important to note that otitis externa is not solely caused by infection. In some cases, it may be caused by non-infectious factors, such as trauma to the ear canal, exposure to excessive heat or cold, or even a foreign body lodged in the ear canal. These factors can cause inflammation and irritation, leading to the symptoms associated with otitis externa.

Otitis externa can be caused by a variety of factors, including excessive moisture in the ear canal, trauma to the ear canal, insertion of objects into the ear, dermatological conditions, allergies, weakened immune system, and certain medical conditions. Understanding the causes of otitis externa is important in preventing and managing this condition effectively.

Otitis externa | Swimmer's ear Treatments

There are several different treatment options available for otitis externa, depending on the severity and cause of the infection. Treatment typically focuses on relieving symptoms, eliminating the infection, and preventing future occurrences. The goal is to speed up the healing process and prevent complications such as spread of infection to other parts of the ear.

To treat otitis externa, a healthcare professional may recommend the following:

Ear drops: The most commonly prescribed treatment for otitis externa involves the use of antibiotic or antifungal ear drops. These drops contain medications that target and eliminate the infection-causing bacteria or fungi. They are usually applied multiple times a day for a specified duration, which can range from 7 to 14 days. It is important to follow the instructions given by the healthcare professional and complete the full course of treatment, even if symptoms improve.

Pain relief: Pain management is an essential part of treating otitis externa. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation. Pain relief may be necessary until the ear drops start taking effect, especially during the first few days of treatment.

Ear wick placement: In certain cases, if the ear canal is highly swollen or narrow, an ear wick may be recommended. An ear wick is a small sponge or gauze that is placed in the ear canal to help deliver medication to the infected area and promote healing. This may be useful when the ear drops cannot easily reach the affected areas due to blockage or tightness of the canal.

Ear cleaning: Proper cleaning of the ear canal is crucial to remove debris, discharge, and excess moisture that may contribute to the infection. However, it is important to note that cleaning should only be done by a healthcare professional using specialized instruments. Attempting to clean the ear at home with cotton swabs or other objects can worsen the condition and potentially cause damage to the ear canal or eardrum.

In addition to these treatment options, there are some self-care measures that can help in the management of otitis externa:

Keep the ear dry: Avoiding excessive exposure to water, including swimming or prolonged bathing, can prevent moisture accumulation in the ear. Using a shower cap or earplugs while showering or swimming can help protect the ear from getting wet.

Avoid irritants: Minimize the use of irritants such as hair sprays, harsh shampoos, and chemical-laden hair products that can irritate the ear canal. Additionally, avoid inserting foreign objects into the ear, as this can cause damage and increase the risk of infection.

Warm compresses: Applying warm compresses to the affected ear can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation. However, it is essential to ensure the compress is not too hot to avoid burns.

Follow-up visits: Regular follow-up visits with a healthcare professional are necessary to monitor the progress of treatment, assess any potential complications, and adjust the treatment plan if needed.

It is important to seek medical attention if symptoms of otitis externa persist or worsen despite home care or if there are any signs of complications, such as fever, severe pain, or spreading redness. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment can prevent further complications and promote faster healing of otitis externa.

Otitis externa | Swimmer's ear FAQs

What is otitis externa?

Otitis externa, also known as swimmer’s ear, is an infection of the outer ear canal. It occurs when water or moisture gets trapped in the ear, creating a moist environment that allows bacteria or fungi to grow.

What are the symptoms of otitis externa?

Common symptoms include ear pain, itching, redness or swelling of the ear canal, a feeling of fullness or blockage in the ear, drainage of pus or fluid, and temporary hearing loss.

How is otitis externa diagnosed?

A healthcare provider may diagnose otitis externa based on the symptoms and a physical examination of the ear. They may also take a sample of any discharge or fluid for further analysis.

What causes otitis externa?

Otitis externa is most commonly caused by bacterial or fungal infections. Factors that increase the risk of developing otitis externa include swimming in contaminated water, excessive moisture or sweating in the ear canal, and using objects such as cotton swabs that can damage the ear canal.

How is otitis externa treated?

Treatment for otitis externa typically involves cleaning the ear canal, prescribing antibiotic or antifungal eardrops, and providing pain relief with over-the-counter pain medications. In severe cases, oral antibiotics or corticosteroids may be prescribed.

Can otitis externa be prevented?

Yes, otitis externa can be prevented by keeping the ears dry, especially after swimming or showering. Using earplugs or a swim cap can help keep water out of the ears while swimming. It is also important to avoid inserting objects into the ear canal, as this can cause damage and increase the risk of infection.

Is otitis externa contagious?

Otitis externa is not usually contagious, although the bacteria or fungi that cause the infection can be spread through contaminated water or by sharing earbuds or headphones.

Can otitis externa cause complications?

In rare cases, untreated or severe otitis externa can lead to complications such as cellulitis (a skin infection), perichondritis (infection of the cartilage of the outer ear), or a persistent or recurrent infection.

How long does it take to recover from otitis externa?

With proper treatment, most cases of otitis externa improve within 7 to 10 days. However, it may take longer for severe or recurrent cases to fully resolve. It is important to complete the full course of prescribed medication, even if symptoms improve earlier.

The information on this website is for general educational purpose only. Readers should consult their physician before considering treatment, and should not interpret their condition solely based on the information above.