You’ve probably heard the expression ‘swimmer’s ear’ before. This is the colloquial term for acute otitis externa, a potentially painful condition that is actually a bacterial (or sometimes fungal) infection of the outer ear canal. It can cause serious complications if left untreated, but the good news is that it usually clears up within a few days once treatment starts.
If you think you or your child may have swimmer’s ear, read on to learn about this ear infections’ causes, common symptoms, and typical treatment.
Swimmer’s Ear Causes
Swimmer’s ear gets its name because it often occurs after someone gets water trapped in their ear while swimming, showering, or bathing. That moisture creates the perfect environment for bacteria to multiply and spread, leading to an ear infection.
Moisture isn’t the only potential cause of this condition; people can also get an ear infection from excessively cleaning their ears with cotton swabs. The cotton swabs can remove too much of the protective layer of ear wax, which has antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Children are more susceptible to swimmer’s ear than adults because their immune system is still developing and their ears have shorter, more horizontal Eustachian tubes; however, it’s still possible for adults to get an ear infection of this type, too.
Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear
Initial symptoms of swimmer’s ear may include itchiness inside the ear, a feeling that the ear is plugged, and fluid drainage. As the infection gets worse, it may cause swollen lymph nodes, difficulty hearing, fever, and an intense pain that starts in the ear but can spread to the face, neck, and side of the head. If left untreated, swimmer’s ear can cause hearing loss, recurring ear infections, or even damage to the bones and cartilage of the ear.
Treatment for Swimmer’s Ear
Fortunately, swimmer’s ear usually doesn’t cause long-term damage because it can be identified and treated early on. If you believe that you or your child has swimmer’s ear, you should make an appointment with your doctor, even if the symptoms seem mild. Your doctor will evaluate the ear infection and may decide to prescribe an antibiotic, such as Cipro HC Otic or Xtoro. These ear infection antibiotics come as ear drops, and when administered as prescribed, they can usually eliminate the infection within a week.
If your doctor does prescribe antibiotic ear drops, use them for the entire prescribed course of treatment, even if you or your child is feeling better before then. Stopping a course of treatment early may allow the infection to return and become more resistant to the antibiotic.
For more information about ear infection, earaches and their treatment, visit our Ear Infections Condition Page.