Swimmer's ear

  • Definition

    Swimmer's ear is inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal. The medical term for swimmer's ear is otitis externa.

    Swimmer's ear may be acute or chronic.

    Alternative Names

    Ear infection - outer ear - acute; Otitis externa - acute; Chronic swimmer's ear; Otitis externa - chronic; Ear infection - outer ear - chronic

    Causes, incidence, and risk factors

    Swimmer's ear is fairly common, especially among teenagers and young adults. It is occasionally associated with middle ear infection (otitis media) or upper respiratory infections such as colds.

    Swimming in polluted water can lead to swimmer's ear. Water-loving bacteria such as Pseudomonas, as well as other bacteria or fungi (in rare cases), can cause ear infections.

    Other causes of swimmer's ear include:

    • Inflammation and irritation of the bone and tissues at the bottom of the skull (malignant otitis externa)
    • Scratching the ear or inside the ear
    • Getting something stuck in the ear

    Trying to clean wax from the ear canal, especially with cotton swabs or small objects, can irritate or damage the skin.

    Long-term (chronic) swimmer's ear may be due to:

    • Allergic reaction to something placed in the ear
    • Chronic skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis