Symptoms and Signs of Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 8/20/2021

Doctor's Notes on Swimmer's Ear Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, Natural Remedies, and Prevention

Swimmer's ear (also termed otitis externa) is a painful condition of the outer portion of the ear and ear canal. Common signs and symptoms are ear pain or earache usually involving only one ear. Ear pain is increased when the ear is touched or pulled on or when the patient chews food. The ear may itch, and the outer ear may be red. Severe swimmer's ear may have symptoms such as pus draining from the ear, or the ear canal may be swollen shut. In addition, the person may have trouble hearing and have ringing in the ear, dizziness, and/or vertigo. Some patients may have a feeling of fullness in the ear, or in more severe cases, pain that extends to the side of the face or neck and/or swollen lymph nodes.

The major cause of swimmer's ear is a break in the skin that lines the outer ear or ear canal that allows bacteria or fungi to invade the outer ear or the ear canal's covering. Breaks in the skin may be caused by scratching, skin conditions (for example, psoriasis), or objects inserted into the ear like swabs, earplugs, phone earbuds, and/or hearing aids, for example.

What Are the Treatments of Swimmer's Ear?

Treatment of swimmer's ear usually involves doctor-prescribed eardrops that have the following compounds, depending on the type of infection:

  • Antibiotic
  • Antifungal
  • Steroid
  • Acidic solution

If the ear canal is blocked by swelling and/or inflammation, the doctor may insert a wick to facilitate the removal of obstructive material. Occasionally, oral antimicrobials may be used. Your doctor can help you prevent swimmer's ear.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.