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eMed previously Babylon Health

Swimmer’s Ear

Edited by Dr Claudia Pastides, 25th April 2019

An infection of the outer ear, otitis externa, is more commonly known as swimmer’s ear. It causes inflammation and swelling of the outer ear and ear canal, and can lead to problems if left untreated. You are more likely to develop this condition if your ears are regularly exposed to water because this makes the ear canal more vulnerable – hence the nickname swimmer’s ear.

If you are experiencing ear ache or any other symptoms of otitis externa then you should speak to a GP.


Usually you will recognise the following symptoms in one ear:

  • Severe ear ache
  • Itching inside the ear
  • Liquid or pus running from the ear
  • Loss of hearing

Unlike other ear infections, otitis externa is unlikely to improve quickly without treatment, so speak to a GP as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms.

Causes of otitis externa

The majority of cases are caused by bacterial or fungal infections, allergies or irritation.

  • Allergies – getting soap or shampoo in the ear
  • Irritation – ear plugs, cotton buds
  • Bacteria – moisture creates a perfect environment for bacteria to grow

Treating otitis externa

This condition can be very painful so you’ll want to ease the symptoms as soon as possible. With doctors available 24/7, you can get diagnosed and start treatment on the same day.

The usual treatment is a course of antibiotic medication or antibiotic ear drops. Once treatment has started you should start to feel better after a few days.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.