Swimmer’s ear is also called acute otitis externa.  It is a condition affecting the ear canal, where an infection causes swelling, inflammation and irritation in and around your ear.

One of the main causes of swimmer’s ear is water within the ear canal, which spreads bacteria and infection. This can also spread to the outer ear and ear drum, where symptoms of swimmer’s ear infection will most often take the form of a rash.

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear

Common symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:

  • Ear pain or ache – most commonly in just one ear
  • Inflammation and pain in the ear canal
  • Swelling and redness of the outer ear
  • An itchy rash or scaly skin in and around the ear canal
  • Discharge from the ear (fluid or pus)
  • Swollen glands in the throat
  • Pain or discomfort when moving your ear or jaw (e.g. when chewing)
  • Loss of hearing if the ear canal becomes swollen shut
  • Trouble sleeping on the affected side of the head
  • Tinnitus

What causes swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear is usually caused when the skin lining the ear canal is broken.  This skin usually serves as a fantastic barrier against infection as it is slightly acidic in addition to being a physical barrier to prevent bacteria from entering the ear.

Children are more susceptible to swimmer’s ear because their ear canals are smaller, which makes water more likely to become trapped inside their ears.

Ways your skin’s lining can become broken

  • A large amount of fluid entering the ear can change the acidity of the lining, which leaves it more susceptible to an invasion of bacteria. Water most commonly enters the ear when swimming, showering or bathing.  This is where the name swimmer’s ear comes from.
  • Some shampoos and hair dyes can also affect the balance of your skin’s acidity.
  • Inserting any objects like cotton-tipped buds into your ear can penetrate your skin’s lining, causing a break and subsequently allowing bacteria to enter your ear.
  • Sharing cotton buds with someone who has an ear infection is likely to pass on the infection to your own ear.
  • Other objects that you put into your ears can also cause infection. This includes headphones or hearing aids if they are not well fitted and kept clean.

How to treat swimmer’s ear

It can take as little as 24 hours for the pain from swimmer’s ear to be dispelled, once medical treatment has begun.  Following a course of treatment, the infection should completely go within a week.

When to see a swimmer’s ear specialist

If you or your child are showing symptoms of swimmer’s ear, the best way to make the pain go away is to see a medical specialist for treatment.  This is especially important if you have diabetes or a compromised immune system.

Immediate attention from a swimmer’s ear specialist is required if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Double vision
  • Dizziness and vertigo
  • Signs of facial weakness
  • Redness or swelling on your face or neck

You should also seek immediate medical attention from a swimmer’s ear specialist if you have been receiving medical treatment for a week and your swimmer’s ear has not gone or has got worse.

How long to wait before swimming with swimmer’s ear

To prevent further infection and aid recovering from swimmer’s ear, you should not swim until the infection has completely gone because your ear needs to remain dry in order for the skin’s lining to heal.  This includes swimming with earplugs, as they will not stop absolutely all water from entering your ear.

How to prevent swimmer’s ear

Swim moulds that fit the crevasses of your own individual ear are the most effective way to prevent water from entering your ear canal when swimming.

Every human ear is unique, so it is important to use a swim mould that has been created specifically for your ear.  This will make it highly effective as well as comfortable.

How long do swim moulds last for?

Swim moulds should last a good while if they are well taken care of.  The only reasons for replacing a swim mould are:

  • If your swim mould becomes damaged or lost
  • If you experience rapid weight loss or gain, which changes the shape and size of your ears
  • If your child has a rapid growth spurt and their ear moulds no longer fit

It is good practice to replace your ear mould every 4-5 years to prevent any of the above from decreasing how effective your ear mould is at keeping water out of your ear.

Other solutions to prevent water from entering your ear

If you take part in other water sports that could cause your ear moulds to come out of your ears, then we also have specialist headbands available, which will keep your ear moulds in place.

Another solution to stop water from entering your ears are ear plugs, which are made to mould to your ear’s individual shape and size.

To enquire about ear moulds, ear plugs or swimming headbands, please contact our ear protection specialists at The Hearing Centre.  We can also help you to receive quick and professional treatment if you are experiencing symptoms of swimmer’s ear.

Speak to a swimmer’s ear specialist

You can contact us via email at [email protected] or call to book an appointment on 0116 254 3909.

Swimming headbands and ear plugs are also available to purchase online through our webshop: https://hearingcentre.com/product-category/ear-protection/