Swimmer's ear

  • Alternative Names

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


    Ear drops containing antibiotics are typically given, usually for 10 to 14 days. If the ear canal is very swollen, a wick may be applied in the ear to allow the drops to travel to the end of the canal. Your doctor or nurse can show you how to do this.

    Other treatments may include:

    • Antibiotics taken by mouth if you have a middle ear infection or infection that spreads beyond the ear
    • Corticosteroids to reduce itching and inflammation
    • Pain medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
    • Vinegar (acetic acid) ear drops

    People with chronic swimmer's ear may need long-term or repeated treatments to avoid complications.

    Placing something warm against the ears may reduce pain.

    Support Groups

    Expectations (prognosis)

    When treated properly, swimmer's ear usually gets better.


    The infection may spread to other areas around the ear, including the skull bone. In elderly people or those who have diabetes, a severe infection called malignant otitis externa is a possibility. Malignant otitis externa is treated with high-dose antibiotics given through a vein.

    Calling your health care provider

    Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:

    • You develop any symptoms of swimmer's ear
    • You notice any drainage coming from your ears
    • Your symptoms get worse or continue despite treatment
    • You have new symptoms, such as fever or pain and redness of the skull behind the ear