Visit our foundation to give a gift.
View Locations Near Me
Main Campus – Hartford
Connecticut Children’s – Waterbury
Urgent Care – Farmington
Specialty Care Center – Danbury
Connecticut Children’s Surgery Center at Farmington
Specialty Care Center – Fairfield
Search All Locations
Find a doctor
Find A Doctor
Request an Appointment
Amenities and Services
Who’s Who on Care Team
Getting Ready for Surgery
What to Expect—Picture Stories
Pay a Bill
Understanding the Different Fees
Pricing Transparency and Estimates
Raytheon Technologies Family Resource Center
Family Advisory Council
Legal Advocacy: Benefits, Education, Housing
Electronic Health Records
Share Your Story
Pay a Bill
Login to MyChart
Clinical Support Services Referrals
About the Network
Join the Network
Graduate Medical Education
Continuing Medical Education
MOC/Practice Quality Improvement
Educating Practices in the Community (EPIC)
Learning & Performance
Meet our Physician Relations Team
Request Medical Records
Join our Referring Provider Advisory Board
View our Physician Callback Standards
Read & Subscribe to Medical News
Register for Email Updates
Update Your Practice Information
Refer a Patient
Find and Print Health Info
Health Information For Parents
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal, the passage that carries sounds from the outside of the body to the eardrum. It can be caused by many different types of bacteria or fungi.
Swimmer’s ear (or otitis externa) is common in kids who spend a lot of time in the water. Too much moisture in the ear can irritate and break down the skin in the canal, letting bacteria or fungi penetrate. It happens most often in summertime, when swimming is common.
But you don’t have to swim to get swimmer’s ear. Anything that causes a break in the skin of the ear canal can lead to an infection. Dry skin or eczema, scratching the ear canal, vigorous ear cleaning with cotton swabs, or putting foreign objects like bobby pins or paper clips into the ear can all increase the risk of otitis externa.
And if someone has a middle ear infection, pus collected in the middle ear can drain into the ear canal through a hole in the eardrum and cause it.
Ear pain is the main sign of swimmer’s ear. It can be severe and gets worse when the outer part of the ear is pulled or pressed on. It also may be painful to chew. Sometimes the ear canal itches before the pain begins.
Swelling of the ear canal might make a child complain of a full or uncomfortable feeling in the ear. The outer ear may look red or swollen, and lymph nodes around the ear can get enlarged and tender. Sometimes, there’s discharge from the ear canal — this might be clear at first and then turn cloudy, yellowish, and pus-like.
Hearing might be temporarily affected if pus or swelling blocks the passage of sound into the ear. Fever isn’t typical in most cases.
Using over-the-counter drops of a dilute solution of acetic acid or alcohol in the ears after swimming can help prevent swimmer’s ear, especially in kids who get it a lot. These drops are available without a prescription at drugstores, but should not be used in kids who have ear tubes or a hole in the eardrum.
To avoid injuring an ear, young kids should not clean their ears themselves. Also, never put objects into kids’ ears, including cotton-tipped swabs.
Treatment depends on the severity of the infection and how painful it is. A health care provider might prescribe ear drops that contain antibiotics to fight the infection, possibly mixed with a steroid to reduce swelling of the ear canal. Ear drops are usually given several times a day for 7 to 10 days.
If swelling of the ear canal makes it hard to put in the drops, the doctor may insert a wick into the canal to help carry the medicine inside the ear. In some cases, the doctor may need to remove pus and other buildup from the ear with gentle cleaning or suction. This lets the ear drops work better.
For more severe infections, oral antibiotics might be prescribed, and the health care provider might want to run tests on discharge from the ear to find which bacteria or fungi are causing the problem.
Over-the-counter pain relievers often can manage ear pain, but a prescription pain medicine may be needed if it’s severe. Once treatment starts, your child will start to feel better in a day or two. Swimmer’s ear is usually cured within 7 to 10 days of starting treatment.
Ear infections should be treated by a doctor. If not, the ear pain will get worse and the infection may spread. At home, acetaminophen or ibuprofen may ease discomfort.
Follow the health care provider’s instructions for using ear drops and oral antibiotics, if they are prescribed. It’s important to keep water out of your child’s ear during the entire course of treatment. You can use a cotton ball as an earplug to protect your child’s ear from water during showering or bathing.
Call your doctor immediately if your child has any pain in the ear with or without fever, decreased hearing in one or both ears, or abnormal discharge from the ear.
That weird ear-popping sensation is a normal part of air travel. Here’s how to help equalize the air pressure in your child’s ears to prevent or decrease ear pain.
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal that can be caused by different types of bacteria or fungi. Find out how to prevent or treat it.
Find out what the experts have to say.
Ear injuries not only can affect a child’s hearing, but sense of balance too. That’s because our ears also help keep us steady on our feet.
Loud music can cause temporary and permanent hearing loss. Learn how to protect your ears so you won’t be saying, “Huh? What did you say?”
A middle ear infection happens when germs like bacteria and viruses get in your middle ear and cause trouble. Read this article to find out more.
You swam! You splashed! And now you have it: swimmer’s ear.
An earache requires a visit to the doctor’s office. Here’s what to do if your child complains of ear pain.
Earwax helps protect the eardrum and fight infection. Parents shouldn’t attempt to remove earwax at home, as doing so risks damage to the ear canal and, possibly, a child’s hearing.
Is it OK to use cotton swabs to remove earwax?
Why do our ears make earwax? Find out in this article for kids.
Take this quiz about your ears.
Ear infections are common among kids and, often, painful. Find out what causes them and how they’re treated.
Many kids get middle ear infections (otitis media). Doctors may suggest ear tube surgery for those with multiple infections or a hearing loss or speech delay.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved.
Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.