Book an appointment
Book a free appointment with one of our experts at a store near you.
What happens in a hearing test?
Understand what happens at your free hearing test with Boots Hearingcare

Swimmer's ear

Swimmer's ear, while not a serious condition, should be addressed promptly. Those who spend a significant amount of time in water are familiar with the risks it poses. Although initially mild, persistent symptoms can become severe and cause discomfort.

If you're concerned about your hearing, book a free hearing health check with us. We're here to help.

Although not a serious condition in the long run, swimmer's ear should be dealt with as quickly as possible. Treatment will help clear up the infection and hence, solve the root of the problem.

Boots Hearingcare offer comprehensive information about swimmer's ear, from symptoms and causes to treatment and prevention…

What is swimmer's ear?

Swimmer's ear is typically a bacterial infection affecting the skin of the outer ear canal, also referred to as external otitis.

The chief cause of swimmer's ear is excessive water exposure infection and the infection can occur in both acute and chronic forms.

Likewise, inserting cotton swabs into the ear canal on a regular basis as a means of ear cleaning at home may also cause an outer ear infection.

What are the symptoms?

Swimmer's ear, or otitis externa, is characterised by various symptoms that can affect the ear canal. Common signs include:

Itching: Persistent itching inside the ear canal is a typical early symptom of swimmer's ear. It may start mildly but can intensify if left untreated.

Redness and Swelling: The ear canal may appear red and swollen. This inflammation is often accompanied by a feeling of fullness or discomfort.

Pain: Swimmer's ear can cause varying degrees of pain, ranging from mild discomfort to severe earache. The pain may worsen when touching or pulling on the outer ear.

Drainage: The ear might produce clear, odorless fluid or pus. This discharge can be a sign of infection and may indicate a more advanced stage of swimmer's ear.

Decreased Hearing: Due to the swelling and accumulation of fluid or debris in the ear canal, hearing loss or muffled hearing may occur.

What are the causes?

Swimmer's ear is often caused by water getting trapped in the ear canal, leading to an infection. This can happen after activities like swimming, bathing, or being in humid conditions. Additionally, foreign objects, such as cotton swabs, scratches in the ear canal, or allergic reactions to jewelry, can contribute to this condition. If you experience discomfort or suspect swimmer's ear, it's advisable to seek professional assistance. At Boots Hearingcare, we provide a free hearing health check to address any concerns and ensure your auditory well-being, emphasising our commitment to your overall ear health.

What treatments are available?

With a confirmed diagnosis of swimmer's ear, a doctor or hearing health professional will recommend treatment options appropriate for your case. These include:

  • Ear drops: Because they contain medication that will not only help clear up infection but also reduce swelling, drops tend to be the go-to for medical professionals when it comes to treating swimmer’s ear. Apply a few times a day for several days and be sure to finish the bottle, even if your symptoms have already abated.
  • Medical procedures: If symptoms are particularly severe, a doctor may need to clean out your ears or do some further exploration in the ear itself before recommending effective treatment. Surgery is not usually required, but a stay in hospital might be needed.
  • At-home solutions: While you’re waiting for ear drops or the results of medical intervention to take effect, paracetamol or ibuprofen will help provide pain relief for swimmer's ear. You should also steer clear of earphones or hearing aids while you’re recovering and keep your ears dry. Also, during this time, limit your use of shampoo and anything else that may irritate the outer ear.

Remember, if symptoms persist despite using any of the above remedies, talk to your GP about putting together a more robust treatment plan.

How can it be prevented?

Preventing swimmer's ear means taking several steps to ensure water does not get trapped inside your ear. This may involve:

  • Wearing ear plugs while swimming
  • Not entering water with uncertain cleanliness, e.g. rivers or lakes
  • Tipping your head to the side after swimming to clear any excess water
  • Drying outside your ears after every bath, shower and swimming session
  • Never removing earwax with cotton buds, fingers, hairpins, etc.

By following these simple guidelines, you can be confident that you're doing everything you can to avoid developing swimmer’s ear and its debilitating effects.

Frequently asked questions

How long does swimmer's ear last without treatment?

  • Despite swimmer's ear usually being able to clear up by itself without treatment over the course of several weeks, prompt medical intervention will stop any unpleasant symptoms and minimise the risk of any further complications developing. Make sure you see your GP as soon as possible to discuss how best to treat your swimmer's ear.

Can you swim with swimmer's ear?

You should avoid swimming whilst battling the symptoms of swimmer's ear. Going back in the pool before you're fully healed could make the problem even worse.

Why is swimmer’s ear so painful?

Ear popping by itself is fine, as you are simply balancing the air pressure between outside and inside your middle ear. However, ear popping can be unpleasant for some and should be investigated if accompanied by other, more severe symptoms.