Swimmer’s Ear Explained – Causes, Symptoms, & Prevention

The Truth Behind Ear Health & Prolonged Water Exposure

Whether you're a seasoned swimmer, a beach vacationer, or a parent with little ones who love to splash around, understanding swimmer's ear is essential. Our hearing care professionals at Connect Hearing can help you navigate the causes of swimmer’s ear, its symptoms, and prevention methods to keep your ears healthy and your hearing sharp after a refreshing dip in the water. With state-of-the-art hearing care centers in Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Colorado, we provide free hearing tests and advanced treatment options to patients of all ages to detect and help manage swimmer’s ear and other ear-related health problems. Read on and equip yourself with the knowledge to enjoy the water worry-free.

What Causes Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear, also known medically as otitis externa, is primarily a consequence of water remaining in the ear canal for prolonged periods. Normally, our ears have natural defenses against foreign matter and infections, such as cerumen (earwax) that accumulates into a water-repellent film, trapping dirt and deterring harmful bacterial growth. When water remains trapped inside the ear canal, it disrupts this protective layer of earwax, enabling bacteria to multiply and ultimately leading to swimmer's ear. Several risk factors can increase an individual's susceptibility to this condition, such as:
Excess Moisture in the Ear Canal
Whether from humid weather, heavy perspiration, or water trapped in the ear after swimming, prolonged moisture within the ear canal creates more risk for developing swimmer’s ear.
Exposure to Contaminated Water
Regular exposure to water, especially water contaminated with high bacterial levels, increases the likelihood of an infection.
Aggressive Cleaning
Cleaning your ears with cotton swabs, bobby pins, or fingernails can damage the delicate tissue in the ear canal, potentially leaving abrasions vulnerable to bacteria.
Use of Ear Devices
Constantly using earbuds, hearing aids, or earplugs can also lead to small breaks and irritation in the skin, producing entry points for bacterial growth to invade the ear and trigger an infection.

Recognize the Signs & Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear

When swimmer's ear sets in, the symptoms can range from mild to severe. In the early stages, you might experience itchiness in the ear canal, mild redness, and slight discomfort that worsens when you tug on your earlobes.

As the condition progresses, you may notice more pronounced symptoms like increased ear pain, fluid drainage, a blocked or full sensation in the ear, decreased hearing, and even fever in severe cases. If you experience persistent symptoms, it's crucial to seek prompt medical attention from a hearing care professional.
Woman suffering from Swimmers Ear in TX, CA, FL, and CO
When you book a one-on-one appointment at your local Connect Hearing Care Center, you'll receive a comprehensive hearing test to assess your overall ear health. We can identify swimmer’s ear and provide personalized treatment options appropriate for your specific condition.

Potential Complications of Untreated Swimmer’s Ear

Ignoring the symptoms of swimmer’s ear can have serious consequences. If left untreated, what starts as a simple ear canal infection can potentially escalate into much more serious health concerns. Early detection and effective treatment are the keys to preventing health complications from occurring:

  • Temporary Hearing Loss – Prolonged infection and inflammation can temporarily impact your hearing abilities. Swelling in the ear canal can result in short-term hearing difficulties that are usually resolved once the infection is treated and the inflammation subsides.
  • Chronic Otitis Externa – Chronic otitis externa, a persistent or recurring form of swimmer's ear, is characterized by long-term symptoms that persist for months, potentially leading to serious hearing complications.
  • Cellulitis & Lymphadenitis – Although rare, outer ear infections can spread deep into the surrounding layers of skin tissue (cellulitis) and the lymph nodes in the neck (lymphadenitis).
  • Early Skull Base Osteomyelitis – This rare condition is a severe infection that has spread to bones in the lower skull and the cartilage around the ear, resulting in intense pain and discomfort. Older adults, individuals with weakened immune systems, and people with diabetes are known to have more risk of developing this condition.
  • Widespread Infection – In rare cases, an infection that has developed into skull base osteomyelitis can spread to the brain, nearby nerves, and other parts of the body, causing serious, potentially life-threatening health problems.

How Do I Prevent Swimmer's Ear?

Preventing swimmer's ear often involves simple steps that you can incorporate into your daily routine. One of the most effective methods is ensuring your ears are dry after swimming, showering, or any activities that involve water exposure. A gentle towel pat or a hairdryer on a low setting can effectively dry your ears. Adding a few drops of a homemade solution of half rubbing alcohol and half white vinegar can also help in keeping your ears clean and dry while preventing bacterial and fungal growth.

Be cautious about swimming in water with high bacterial levels. Instead, opt for clean pools and well-maintained beaches. If you're a regular swimmer, consider wearing earplugs or a swimming cap to prevent water entry into your ear canals. If you frequently use devices like earbuds or hearing aids, ensure they are clean and disinfected.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Swimmer’s ear does not go away by itself. A suspected outer ear infection demands a proper diagnosis, which can be achieved with a single doctor visit. To diagnose swimmer’s ear, the doctor performs an initial examination using an otoscope. This device helps identify signs of inflammation or infection in the ear canal and assess for eardrum damage. In some cases, the doctor may take a sample of any ear discharge to pinpoint the specific bacteria causing the infection.
Once diagnosed, you'll receive tailored treatment options suitable to the severity of your symptoms. For mild cases, prescription ear drops with antibiotics fight the infection, and corticosteroids reduce itching and inflammation. For severe cases, oral antibiotics may be suggested. We can also provide advice on at-home remedies, like warm compresses to alleviate pain. If the ear canal is too swollen for ear drops, a wick may be inserted to facilitate medication delivery.

Connect Hearing – Your Path to Optimal Ear Health

If you or a loved one is suffering from hearing loss or any other ear-related health concerns, our hearing care centers across the nation offer one-on-one hearing consultations and a range of hearing loss treatments tailored to your unique needs. Find a Connect Hearing Care Center near you today. With clinics in Texas, Florida, California, Georgia, Colorado, and beyond, we are committed to providing exceptional hearing healthcare.

Remember, seeking timely treatment for conditions like swimmer's ear not only ensures optimal ear health but also prevents the potential for more adverse hearing complications. Prioritize your hearing health because nothing should come between you and the joy of sound. Contact Connect Hearing and take the first step towards better hearing today.