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Swimmer's Ear (cont.)

Can I swim with swimmer's ear?

You should not swim if you have swimmer's ear. Even if you wear earplugs, they do not have a tight enough seal to completely keep water out, and your ears need to stay dry to heal. Scuba diving and other water activities also should be avoided.

What kind of doctor treats swimmer's ear?

family practitioner, internist, or pediatrician may initially diagnose and treat swimmer's ear. In an emergency department you would see an emergency medicine specialist. If the condition is severe patients may be referred to an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist, also called an ENT) to treat swimmer's ear.

When should I seek medical care for swimmer's ear?

Call a health-care professional immediately in any of these situations:

  • Pain is not controlled with over-the-counter medicines that are taken as recommended on the label. Any pressure on the outer ear may cause great pain, so it is often difficult to lie down with the affected side against a pillow. Many people with swimmer's ear have trouble sleeping until they get medical attention.
  • The person feels dizzy.
  • The person has any signs of facial weakness or double vision.
  • The person has diabetes or some other condition that prevents the immune system from functioning normally.
  • If there is associated redness or swelling that extends down the neck or along the face from the ear, immediate medical attention should be sought.
  • If the swimmer's ear does not improve after one week of medical treatment.
  • The symptoms of swimmer's ear worsen.

Swimmer's ear, in general, is not an emergency. However, a person should go to an emergency department at the hospital if they are experiencing symptoms of swimmer's ear and have diabetes, a compromised immune system, are running a fever, are experiencing dizziness or facial weakness, or have a history of prior ear surgery.

How is swimmer's ear diagnosed?

The doctor can easily make a diagnosis of swimmer's ear after taking a brief history and performing a limited physical examination. Pain produced by gently pulling on the ear as the doctor attempts to examine the ear canal is a likely sign of swimmer's ear.

  • The doctor may look at the ear canal with a lighted scope called an otoscope. With this, if swimmer's ear is present the doctor can see if the ear canal is swollen, red, or sometimes coated with a whitish material called an exudate.
  • The doctor may examine the drainage from the ear under a microscope to determine if bacteria or fungi are causing the infection. This allows the doctor to prescribe either an antibacterial or an antifungal medicine.
  • X-rays and blood tests are rarely needed.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/7/2015

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Otitis externa is an inflammation or infection of the external auditory canal and/or auricle.

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