Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear (also called acute otitis externa) is typically caused by a bacterial infection of the outer ear canal. Occasionally, it is caused by a yeast infection.

Swimmer’s ear often occurs in people who spend a lot of time in chlorinated water. Chlorine changes the pH balance of the ear canal, causing normal bacteria in the ear canal to grow uncontrollably.

But you don’t have to be a swimmer to get it. Other causes include:

  • Damage to the skin of the ear canal — often caused by chronic use of cotton swabs
  • Water that gets trapped in the ear canal during showers
  • Hearing aid use
  • Living in humid climates
  • Radiation treatments to the neck and skull

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear typically include:

  • Ear pain, with pressure
  • Itchiness or pain in the ear canal
  • Drainage from the ear canal
  • A foul smell from the ear
  • A feeling of fullness or heaviness in the ear

Your doctor can manage this infection with a thorough cleaning in the office, and by prescribing topical or oral antibiotics.

For people who spend a lot of time in the water, other precautions against swimmer’s ear can be taken, including irrigations with a mixture of equal parts white vinegar and rubbing alcohol solution.

Audiologists at the Listen for Life Center can also make custom earplugs specifically for you.