“Swimmer’s ear”: symptoms and treatment

Fitness & Wellness
Written by: Marco Borreca at 22 August '17 0
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Swimming is an excellent sport for your health with lots of both physical and mental benefits.

Unfortunately, you should not swim under certain special circumstances, like for example when suffering from illnesses that might get worse if you enter the water.

One of these is external otitis, acute inflammation of the ear canal.

Description and causes

As mentioned above, this is an inflammation or infection of the outside canal of the ear or, in other words, the passage way to the eardrum.

It is known as “swimmer’s ear”, because it is commonly contracted by people who swim a lot due to constant contact between the water and ear cavity.

Repeated contact with chlorinated water results in ear wax being removed and humidity helps spread bacteria that can cause the skin to dry up and flake: seborrheic dermatitis.

As well as water and humidity, another factor likely to cause this extremely annoying infection is the use of certain shampoos and soaps.

As they come into contact with the ear, they are likely to cause severe itching that can result in damage to the affected area.


Here are the symptoms that should cause you concern and suggest looking for the right remedies:

  • Water or a yellowish-coloured discharge from the ear.
  • Hearing problems.
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
  • Swelling and pain in the ear canal.
  • Itchiness inside the ear.
  • Ringing in the ear.
  • Rash on the eardrum.

These symptoms appear during the acute phase of the illness about 48 hours from the initial infection and in chronic cases they continue for over 5-6 weeks

There is also a form of malignant necrotising external otitis, which I sincerely hope you do not catch.

This is the most feared kind, because it spreads across the tissues near the ear canal.

It can cause dizziness, cervical paralysis or even deftness and generally affects diabetes-sufferers.

How to treat swimmer’s ear

Swimmer’s ear is not usually dangerous and clears up on its own in a few days.

In any case, the process can be speeded up by taking a few simple precautions:

  • Do not wet your ear, which means no swimming 🙁
  • Do not place anything in your ear, such as, for example, cotton wool or earphones.
  • Use a syringe (without a needle) to disinfect it by injecting a saline solution.
  • If you are in serious pain, opt for the old-fashioned but always effective remedy of placing a hot flannel where it hurts.

If the pain or itching continues over 24 hours, contact your GP.

The type of treatment will depend on the seriousness of your symptoms and you will probably be prescribed antivirals for antibiotics. In more serious cases, you may be given courtesan-based medication.

Always make sure you look after your health and, to prevent this kind of problem, always dry your ears properly whenever you go swimming; two minutes extra in the locker rooms will not change your life, but it will help you avoid some unpleasant surprises.

Take a nice hot shower, relax a little and get ready for the next article! 


  • Anatomia umana e igiene; scienze motorie preventiva ed adattata; università degli studi di Pavia; facoltà di medicina e chirurgia.
  • Malattie dell’orecchio, del naso e della laringe; di Giorgio Salvade’.

Written by:

Marco Borreca

Marco Borreca was born in Milan in 1985. After his competitive swimming career, he continued his sports studies graduating from the faculty of Preventive and Adaptive Motor Sciences in Pavia. He has been working as a swimming/ fitness instructor and rehabilitation expert at various sports centres since he was very young. He mainly focuses on using water for recovering motor skills in the case of sports injuries and disabilities. He currently works for a municipal sports centre as the Head of Fitness and also works for a private practice as a kinesiologist.