What is Swimmer’s ear?


Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the skin of the ear canal, and it can be excruciatingly painful. Swimmer’s ear affects millions of people every year, with numbers rising in the summer. Nearly half of the cases occur between June and August. Swimmer’s ear can sometimes be called otitis externa by healthcare professionals.

Swimmer’s ear can be caused by bacteria or a fungal infection.  Our ears normally have a good balance of bacteria and fungi. But in some cases, especially when the ear is warm and moist this could lead to an infection.

You are more likely to get this in tropical climates and when you go swimming. In some cases, the bacteria or fungi can enter the ear from dirty water, for example in swimming pools or lakes and seas. All water contains bacteria, and the levels are even higher in non-treated water found in lakes, rivers and oceans.

Swimmer’s ear does occur more than you think, so it is crucial to ensure that you look after your ears when on holiday or even when out and about.


What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:

  • Muffled or ears that feel clogged or full
  • Pain, often intense
  • Itchiness inside the ear
  • Swelling and sometimes discharge

How to prevent

The best way to reduce the chances of getting swimmer’s ear is to take some easy precautions:

  • Don’t let trapped water remain in ears
  • Dry ears with a towel after swimming or submerging into water
  • Tilt your head to each side to allow any excess water to drain after a swim, bath, shower etc
  • Use earplugs or a swim hat when swimming, especially in lakes and rivers.
  • If you use reusable earplugs, make sure you disinfect/clean them often.
  • Don’t insert anything into ears, such as cotton ear buds to clean ears. (However, tempting it may be!)
  • Clean earbuds/headphones often with an antibacterial wipe
  • If you wear hearing aids, clean the earmold / earpiece regularly as instructed by your hearing care professional

Treatment for swimmer’s ear

  • Check with your healthcare provider if you have ear pain or drainage from the ear.  They may need to look inside your ears.
  • Swimmer’s ear can be treated with ear drops.
  • You may need to have your ears microsuctioned to remove debris in the ear canal
  • If you experience sudden hearing loss, facial palsy, intense headaches or swelling behind the ear on the bone seek urgent help.