Pediatric Otolaryngology

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Otitis Externa (Swimmers Ear)

Causes of Otitis Externa                           Treatment of Otitis Externa
Symptoms of Otitis Externa                      Preventing Otitis Externa
Diagnosis of Otitis Externa

Otitis externa, also called swimmer's ear, is an inflammation of the external ear canal. Swimmer's ear is generally caused by bacteria. In order for the infection to take place, the bacteria generally needs a moist environment such as a wet ear, which often occurs after swimming. 








Causes of Otitis Externa

Many different factors can increase your child's chance of developing otitis externa. Swimming or bathing are the main activities associated with swimmer's ear but other possible causes of this infection include the following: 

  • Being in warm, humid places
  • Harsh cleaning of the ear canal 
  • Trauma to the ear canal 
  • Dry ear canal skin 
  • Foreign body in the ear canal 
  • Lack of cerumen (ear wax) 
  • Eczema and other forms of dermatitis

Symptoms of Otitis Externa

The following are the most common symptoms of swimmer's ear. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain, especially when touching or wiggling the ear
  • Swollen ear canal
  • Drainage from the ear
  • Hearing loss
  • Redness of the outer ear 
  • Itching in the ear 

The symptoms of swimmer's ear may resemble other medical conditions or problems and you should discuss your child's symptoms with your doctor to determine the actual cause of the symptoms.

Diagnosis of Otitis Externa

Otitis externa is diagnosed by your doctor using both the history and physical exam of your child. Your child's physician may also take a culture of the drainage from the ear to help determine proper treatment. 

Treatment of Otitis Externa

Swimmer's ear ususally clears up within 7 to 10 day Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotic ear drops or oral antibiotics
  • Keeping the ear dry
  • Corticosteroid ear drops (to help decrease the swelling)
  • Pain medication
  • A wick (A piece of sponge may be placed in your child's ear if there is a lot of swelling. This wick helps the antibiotic drops work more effectively in the ear canal.) 

Preventing Otitis Externa

The following are some hints to help prevent swimmer's ear: 

  • Place two to three drops of a mixture of vinegar and isopropyl alcohol into your child's ear after the ears come in contact with water.
  • Use ear plugs for swimming or bathing.
  • Do not aggressively clean your child's ear canal. Especially avoid Q-tips when cleaning a child's ear.
© 2010 Medical College of Wisconsin
Page Updated 02/19/2010