What is Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear, also known as “Otitis Externa”, is a bacterial infection of the outer ear canal. It is mainly caused by prolonged contact with water in the ear.

What causes Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear is very common in children who spend a lot of time swimming in water. It is caused by excessive moisture and humidity irritating the skin in the ear canal, creating the perfect environment that allows bacteria and fungi to enter. 

Your child does not need to swim in order to get swimmer’s ear. It can also be caused by dry skin or eczema, and scratching of the ear canal. Anything that causes an opening of the skin in the ear canal that would allow germs to enter can cause swimmer’s ear. 

How do you know your child has swimmer’s ear? Signs and Symptoms?

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear are usually mild at first, then progressively get worse if left untreated. Signs and symptoms can include itching, redness, fever, drainage, and pain (refer to chart for full list).

How do you treat it?

  • Cleaning: To allow the medicated ear drops to take full effect, cleaning the ear canal is necessary to remove earwax, flaky skin and debris. 
  • Medication to treat the infection: for most cases of swimmer’s ear, your doctor will prescribe ear drops that have a combination of some of the following ingredients:
    • Acidic solution to help restore the ear’s normal antibacterial environment
    • Steroid to reduce inflammation
    • Antibiotic to fight bacteria
    • Antifungal medication to fight infection caused by a fungus
  • Medication to treat pain:
    • Over-the-counter medications include Ibuprofen (advil, motrin), naproxen, or acetaminophen (tylenol).


  • Keep your ears dry
  • Avoid putting foreign objects in your ear (cotton swabs)
  • Protect your ears while swimming
  • Don’t swim in lakes or rivers when high bacteria count is present


  • Temporary hearing loss: usually gets better after the infection has cleared up.
  • Chronic “Swimmer’s Ear” Infection: could last over 3 months if the infection is not treated properly. 
  • Bone and cartilage damage: this can occur if the infection moves towards the bone and cartilage around the ear causing severe pain.
  • Other infections: if the infection is not treated properly, the infection may spread and affect other parts of the body.