What Is Chronic Swimmer’s
swimmer’s ear is when the outer ear and ear canal become infected, swollen, or
irritated, on a long-term or recurring basis. Water trapped in your ear after
swimming often causes this condition. The ear’s structure and the water left in
the ear after swimming combine to create an ideal damp, dark space in which
bacteria and fungi can thrive and cause infection.
ear occurs fairly often in children and teenagers, especially those who swim
regularly. Cases are typically acute (not chronic) and respond to treatment within
one to two weeks. Chronic swimmer’s ear occurs when the condition isn’t
resolved easily or when it recurs multiple times.
term for chronic swimmer’s ear is chronic otitis externa.
What Are the Causes of
Chronic Swimmer’s Ear?
or cerumen, provides a natural barrier against germs entering your ear.
Swimmer’s ear can occur when you don’t have enough earwax in your ear. Without
the protection of adequate earwax, bacteria can enter your ear and cause an infection.
following circumstances are common causes of chronic swimmer’s ear:
too much water to get into your ears
the ear canal with cotton swabs
cosmetic chemicals from products such as hairspray to enter your ear, causing a
the inside or outside of the ear, causing small breaks in the skin which can
something stuck in your ear
following through with treatment for acute swimmer’s ear
What Are the Risk Factors
for Chronic Swimmer’s Ear?
swimmer’s ear is most common in children. Children typically have a narrow ear
canal, trapping water more easily.
circumstances and behaviors that can increase your risk of developing chronic
swimmer’s ear include:
frequently, particularly in public pools
in areas where there may be excessive bacteria, such as hot tubs or polluted
headphones, hearing aids, or swim caps that could scratch or injure your ears
skin conditions such as psoriasis, eczema, or seborrhea
case of swimmer’s ear may become chronic if:
physical structure of the ear makes treatment difficult
bacterium (or fungus) is a rare strain
have an allergic reaction to antibiotic eardrops
infection is both bacterial and fungal
What Are the Symptoms of
Chronic Swimmer’s Ear?
swimmer’s ear begins with the symptoms of an acute case of swimmer’s ear. Signs
and symptoms include:
inside the ear or ear canal
that intensifies when you tug on the outside of the ear or when you chew
that the ear is stuffed or blocked
reduced level of hearing
or pus draining from the ear
lymph nodes around the ear
condition is considered chronic if:
symptoms occur repeatedly, as multiple sequential episodes
symptoms persist for more than three months
What Are the Complications Associated
with Chronic Swimmer’s Ear?
of untreated chronic swimmer’s ear include:
of the surrounding skin
(an infection that affects the deep tissues of the skin)
complications that affect other parts of the body include:
otitis externa, an infection that spreads to the base of your skull and is more
likely to affect older adults and people with diabetes or immune deficiencies
infection, a rare, potentially life-threatening complication that occurs when
malignant otitis externa spreads to your brain or other parts of your body
How Is Chronic Swimmer’s
A doctor can
usually diagnose chronic swimmer’s ear during an office visit. They will use an
otoscope, a lighted instrument that allows for examination inside the ear, to
look for the following signs of chronic swimmer’s ear:
red, swollen, or tender ear and ear canal
in the eardrum
of scaly, shedding skin in the ear canal
of the affected area that may require clearing
why the condition is chronic, you may need to see an otolaryngologist (an ear,
nose, and throat specialist). An otolaryngologist can identify whether the
primary site of the infection is the middle ear or the outer ear. An infection
in the middle ear requires a different type of treatment.
Your doctor may
also take a sample of ear discharge or debris for laboratory analysis. This
allows them to determine the specific bacteria causing the recurring infection.
What Is the Treatment for
Chronic Swimmer’s Ear?
begin treatment, your physician may need to clear any discharge or debris in
the ear. This procedure uses suction or an ear curette, which has a scoop on
cases of chronic swimmer’s ear, treatment will begin with antibiotic eardrops
to cure the infection. If your ear is very swollen, your doctor may have to
insert a cotton or gauze wick (tube) into your ear to allow the eardrops to
travel into the ear canal.
eardrops typically last for 10 to 14 days. It’s important to finish the
complete course of eardrops, even if the pain and symptoms subside before the
end of the course.
treatments for chronic swimmer’s ear may include:
to lessen inflammation
eardrops to help restore your ear’s normal bacterial balance
eardrops for infections caused by fungi
or ibuprofen for relief of pain or other discomfort
treatment may be modified to include oral antibiotics, especially if eardrops
haven’t succeeded in the past. You may also be given prescription pain
relievers to relieve pain that has increased in severity or has lasted a long
of intravenous (IV) antibiotics treat cases of chronic swimmer’s ear with
malignant otitis externa, especially in older adults or diabetic patients.
treatment, you will achieve the best results if you do not:
the inside of your ears wet while bathing
anything in your ears, including headphones, until your symptoms subside
How Can I Prevent Chronic
reduce your risk of developing chronic swimmer’s ear by following these
put anything in your ears, including cotton swabs, fingers, liquids, or sprays.
wearing earplugs if you swim often.
swimming or showering, thoroughly dry your ears with a towel or a hair dryer on
a low setting. When drying with a towel, be gentle and only dry the outer ear.
your ears get wet, turn your head from side to side to help water flow out.
your ears or put cotton balls in them before applying hair dyes or spraying
hairsprays or perfumes.
preventive eardrops made from 1 part rubbing alcohol and 1 part white vinegar
before and after swimming.
swim in places where there may be a high bacterial content.
stop any treatment for swimmer’s ear sooner than your doctor recommends.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook?
for chronic swimmer’s ear is usually successful. However, depending on the
severity of your infection, your treatment may take some time. You may also
need to repeat your treatment.
important to follow your doctor’s instructions and take all medication,
especially oral antibiotics or antibiotic eardrops, for the prescribed period
of time. Your infection isn’t cured simply because your symptoms disappear.