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Otitis Externa (Swimmer's Ear)

What is otitis externa?

Otitis externa, also called swimmer's ear, is an inflammation of the external ear canal. Swimmer's ear is caused by bacteria or yeast (fungus). Water that remains trapped in the ear canal (when swimming, for example) may provide a source for the growth of bacteria and yeast.

Picture of two young girls giggling by the side of the pool

What causes swimmer's ear?

Many factors can increase your child's chance of developing swimmer's ear. As the name implies, one of the factors is excessive wetness as a result of swimming, although it can occur without swimming. Other possible causes of this infection include the following:

What are the symptoms of swimmer's ear?

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

The symptoms of swimmer's ear may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is swimmer's ear diagnosed?

Swimmer's ear may be diagnosed with a complete medical history and physical examination by your child's physician. Your child's physician may use an otoscope, a lighted instrument that helps to examine the ear and aids in the diagnosis of ear disorders. This will help your child's physician know if there is also an infection in the middle ear, called acute otitis media. Although acute otitis media usually does not occur with swimmer's ear, some children may have both types of infections.

Your child's physician may also take a culture of the drainage from the ear to help determine proper treatment.

Treatment of swimmer's ear

Swimmer's ear, when properly treated by a physician, usually clears up within seven to 10 days. The specific treatment for this condition depends on many factors and is tailored for each child. Please discuss your child's condition, treatment options and your preferences with your child's physician or healthcare provider.

Treatment may include:

Preventing swimmer's ear

The following are some hints to help prevent swimmer's ear. If your child has ear tubes, consult with your ENT physician regarding specific instructions.

Reviewed by: Steven D. Handler, MD, MBE
Date: June 2011

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