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Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Ear Canal Problems (Swimmer's Ear)
(otitis externa) is a painful inflammation and infection of the
ear canal. It occurs when the protective film that covers the ear canal
(lipid layer) is removed. This causes the ear canal to look red and swollen.
The ear canal may be narrower than normal and is tender when the outside of the
ear is gently pulled up and back.
Swimmer's ear may develop when
water, sand, dirt, or other debris gets into the ear canal. Since it often
occurs when excess water enters the ear canal, a common name for this
inflammation is "swimmer's ear." If you have had swimmer's ear in the past, you
are more likely to get it again.
A rare but serious infection
called malignant external otitis can develop if bacteria invade the bones
inside the ear canal and spread to the base of the skull. Not many people get
this infection—it is mainly seen in older adults who also have
diabetes, people who have
HIV, and children who have
impaired immune systems—but it can be fatal. Symptoms
include ear pain with sudden facial paralysis, hoarseness, and throat pain.
Antibiotics are used to treat this infection.
Other causes of
inflammation or infection of the ear canal include:
You are more likely to get swimmer's ear if:
Symptoms can include
itching, pain, and a feeling of fullness in the ear. Your ear canal may be
swollen. You may have moderate to severe pain, drainage, or hearing loss.
Unlike a middle ear infection (acute otitis media), the pain is worse
when you chew, press on the "tag" in front of the ear, or wiggle your
You may be able to prevent swimmer's ear. Symptoms often
get better or go away with home treatment.
symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.
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If you have a
ruptured eardrum, you will likely need to see your doctor to treat the infection or injury that caused the rupture. A ruptured eardrum usually drains suddenly and leaks fluid that can look like pus, smell bad, or even be bloody.
If you do not have a ruptured eardrum, you may be able to relieve your ear
Talk to your child’s doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
In most cases, it is best to leave your
ears alone and let them maintain their own healthy, natural balance.
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
January 9, 2012
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
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