Everything You Need to Know About Swimmer's Ear

Swimmer's Ear. Getty Images / Martin Harvey

What Is Swimmer's Ear?

Swimmer's ear is an outer ear infection that you get when water, often from a swimming pool, gets trapped inside of your ear. Water from bathing, swimming or boating in a lake or river, or sitting in a hot tub can also cause swimmer's ear. Unlike middle ear infections, swimmer's ear can be seen from the outside of the ear. If you suspect you have swimmer's ear you may wish to read some of the following articles:

Other conditions that might be confused with swimmer's ear include skin allergies, or other skin conditions (like eczema), middle ear infections, or fluid in the ear. If you are still unsure if your symptoms are being caused by swimmer's ear or another condition you may wish to read some of the following articles.

When to See a Doctor

Most cases of swimmer's ear should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible to prevent dangerous complications of swimmer's ear such as malignant otitis externa. However, there are some instances where it might be okay to try some things at home and wait a day or two. If you suspect swimmer's ear and are unsure if you should see a doctor, or if you have questions about a home remedy you've read about online, you may want to read:

You should not use online home remedies if you have had recent ear surgery, (such as the placement of ear tubes or a tympanoplasty) or if you suspect you may have a ruptured ear drum as some of these home remedies could damage your ears and even cause hearing loss.

Treatment of Swimmer's Ear

Most cases of swimmer's ear are treated with antibiotic ear drops, but in some instances systemic (oral) antibiotics may be necessary. For more information read:

Some people have excessive ear wax that must be removed in order for the ear drops to be effective. Your doctor can do this in his or her office. Do not try to remove ear wax yourself because you can push it in farther (or even accidentally rupture your eardrum). For a more detailed explanation of the procedure to remove ear wax read:

It should also be noted that ear candles are not recommended. In fact, they can be dangerous.

Your doctor will choose a treatment for you based on the severity of your symptoms and how much the infection has spread.

Managing the Pain of Swimmer's Ear

Unfortunately swimmer's ear can be a painful condition. One of the ways that swimmer's ear is different from a middle ear infection is that, if you have swimmer's ear, it hurts when you pull or wiggle your ear lobe. It can also be swollen and itchy, making this an all around uncomfortable illness.

For tips on managing the pain of swimmer's ear refer to:


Swimmer's ear is often recurring, meaning once you've had it you may be more likely to get it again. It is also true that the more time you spend in the water the more likely you are to get swimmer's ear. However, the good news is that it is also a very preventable condition. To learn how you can prevent swimmer's ear read:


CDC. "Swimmer's Ear" Otitis Externa. Accessed: August 16, 2011 from http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/rwi/illnesses/swimmers-ear.html