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General Medical Questions
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Question : What are the symptoms of swimmer’s ear? How should I treat it?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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August 11, 2011
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A:

Swimmer's ear is an infection of the ear canal. Doctors call it external otitis.

Symptoms of swimmer's ear include:

  • Itching of the ear canal
  • Redness of the skin of the outer ear or ear canal
  • Drainage from the ear canal (often yellow, green or possibly cheesy)
  • Pain when touching the ear or moving the jaw while chewing or talking
  • Decreased hearing from debris that clogs the ear canal

Swimmer's ear can be caused by bacteria or fungi. It is called swimmer's ear because it is associated with frequent swimming. Long and frequent exposure to water makes the skin of the ear canal more susceptible to infection. Warm and humid conditions can do the same thing. That's why swimmer's ear is most common in the summer.

Sometimes swimmer's ear can be treated by clearing the ear canal of debris and keeping it dry. However, doctors usually prescribe ear drops to promote quicker healing. The most commonly used drops combine medications to fight the infection and calm the inflammation. Many products combine an antibiotic with hydrocortisone. There are all equally effective.

Drops are placed in the ear canal three or four times per day for about five days.

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