Swimmer's Ear (cont.)
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What is swimmer's ear?
Swimmer's ear (also called otitis externa) is a painful condition of the visible or outer portion of the ear and ear canal (outer ear). The ear canal is a cylinder-shaped structure that extends from the outer part of the ear, above the ear lobe, all the way to the eardrum (tympanic membrane). The typical size of the canal is about 2.5 centimeters in length and 7-9 millimeters in width.
The main function of the ear canal is to protect the middle ear from infection and entry of foreign objects. This function is accomplished by the length of the canal, making it difficult for objects to enter. In addition, the outer portion of the canal produces ear wax (cerumen) that helps trap debris entering the ear. It also produces an acidic environment that may be harmful to bacteria entering the ear. There is also hair in the ear canal which provides an additional barrier against debris entering the ear.
Males and females of all ages are affected by otitis externa equally, but children and teenagers most frequently develop this type of ear infection. It is estimated that swimmer's ear is responsible for 2.4 million doctor visits in the U.S. Children are most often affected as they routinely spend more time in the water swimming, etc. during vacation periods than adults. However, competitive swimmers and adults that are frequent swimmers are disproportionally affected as well.
Is swimmer's ear and an ear infection the same thing?
There are many types of ear infections, and swimmer's ear can be one type of ear infection caused by bacteria or fungus that gets trapped in the ear canal. Swimmer's ear can also refer to just inflammation and pain in the ear that occurs after water gets trapped in the ear canal. The most common bacteria responsible for swimmer's ear infections are Staphylococcus aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. In fewer than 10% of cases a fungus causes swimmer's ear
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/7/2015
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