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Alternative Names Return to topEar infection - outer ear - chronic; Otitis externa - chronic
Definition Return to top
Swimmer's ear is inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal. Chronic swimmer's ear occurs when the condition does not go away or comes back multiple times.
See also: Swimmer's ear - acute
Causes Return to top
Swimmer's ear (otitis externa) is fairly common.
Swimming in polluted water is one way to get swimmer's ear. Moisture makes the ear more prone to infection from water-loving bacteria such as Pseudomonas. Other bacteria, or fungi (in rare cases) can also cause infection.
Other causes include:
Symptoms Return to top
Exams and Tests Return to top
During the examination, the health care provider may find:
Treatment Return to top
The goal is to cure the infection, usually with ear drops containing antibiotics.
Other treatments include:
If the ear canal is very swollen, a wick may be placed in the ear to allow the drops to travel to the end of the canal.
In elderly people or those who have diabetes and persistent ear pain or drainage, malignant otitis externa is a possibility. Malignant otitis externa is treated with high-dose antibiotics given through a vein (intravenous).
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Chronic swimmer's ear usually responds to treatment. Treatment may be prolonged or repeated. If untreated, complications may develop.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if:
Prevention Return to top
Dry the ear thoroughly after swimming. People who swim often should consider wearing earplugs.
Swimmer's ear from any cause should be treated completely. Treatment should not be stopped sooner than the doctor recommends.Update Date: 10/15/2008 Updated by: Daniel Levy, MD, PhD, Infectious Diseases, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Baltimore, MD. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.