What Causes Swimmer’s Ear?

A senior man on a surfboard at risk for swimmer's ear.

Imagine you’re in an old school noir movie and you play a detective. You’re attempting to find a killer (and you’re being pretty hard-boiled about it, whatever that means) and you have one clue: the suspect is afflicted with Swimmer’s Ear.

You’re poring through newspaper clippings and old school yearbooks in a long montage set to dramatic music. You’re wondering if any of your principal suspects may have been a member of the school swim team. Or perhaps they regularly swim at a local pool.

Not surprisingly, finally you discover one (and only one, that’s how these movies work) who fits the bill, and it takes you right to the killer. Case closed! There will also probably be some action and serious dialog at some point. And it’s all courtesy of Swimmer’s Ear.

Unfortunately, that isn’t at all how it would happen in real life. The investigation itself was flawed. In real life, Swimmer’s Ear doesn’t only effect swimmers.

What is Swimmer’s Ear?

The symptoms associated with Swimmer’s Ear are really not fun. The symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear generally include itching inside of your ear canal, pain when you touch your ears, and occasionally a pussy emission. It’s really aggravating.

Even though Swimmer’s Ear isn’t a life threatening condition, it can still have a considerable impact on your quality of life. It can make your life very difficult. While the infection is in full swing, Swimmer’s Ear can even trigger hearing loss.

What is the difference between Swimmer’s Ear and an ear infection? Normally, it’s the location. Swimmer’s ear usually affects the ear canal while an ear infection affects the inner ear. This usually means a bacteria or fungus is infecting the outer ear (if you’ve been streaming The Last of Us, there’s no need to worry about this particular fungus turning you into a zombie).

Causes of Swimmer’s Ear

In spite of its name, Swimmer’s Ear isn’t caused by, well, swimming (mostly). Instead, Swimmer’s Ear is caused by an infection, normally a bacteria or a fungus.

But that doesn’t mean swimming is totally unrelated (our movie detective wasn’t completely right, but he wasn’t totally wrong either). Both fungi and bacteria love warm, moist environments, so it’s not entirely shocking that prolonged exposure to water can boost your risk of developing Swimmer’s Ear.

But when it comes to Swimmer’s Ear, water isn’t the only risk. There are other ways you can increase your chances of experiencing this very special outer ear infection, including the following:

  • Sustaining an injury to your ear canal. If you get a little too aggressive while cleaning your ear with a cotton swab or your fingernail this can happen. Swimmer’s Ear can be a result of a scratch or cut that has become infected.
  • Excess ear wax. Normally, earwax can help keep your ears clean. But too much of a good thing can be potentially harmful in this case, the excess earwax can become a home for bacteria, and aggravate the skin in your ear canal at the same time.
  • Devices designed for your ear. This might include earplugs, hearing aids, or other devices that we advise you to use. Your risk of getting Swimmer’s Ear will be greater if you use these devices constantly or improperly. However, there are some ways you can deal with this risk (after all, it’s important to wear ear protection or hearing aids!)
  • Weakened immune systems. Fungal infections can set in if your immune system isn’t at peak capacity.
  • Medical history. You will be more prone to developing Swimmer’s Ear if you have a history of topical allergies or other skin conditions.

Naturally, there’s no guarantee that you will or won’t experience Swimmer’s Ear even with these risk factors. Just because your ear gets wet doesn’t mean you’ll instantly develop this condition. But your chances of getting Swimmer’s Ear will be increased by prolonged exposure to wetness.

Stopping Swimmer’s Ear

Because there’s not one single cause of Swimmer’s Ear, there are a variety of things you can do that will help minimize the risk of developing this condition in the future.

  • Keep your ears dry: After you shower or go swimming or have a bath, use a towel to lightly dry your ears. You don’t need to be aggressive. Also, drain the water out of your ear by tipping your head. If you are able to keep your ears dry, the bacteria or fungi will have a less hospitable place to develop.
  • Don’t utilize implements to clean out your ears: Avoid sticking anything in your ear larger than a finger. This means you need to avoid bobby pins, cotton swabs, or anything else you can think of. You won’t regret it!
  • Clean your earplugs or hearing aids: If they remain clean, you can help minimize the transfer of germs, including bacteria.
  • If you swim frequently, use earplugs: This can help stop water from going into your ears in the first place.
  • Ask your provider about specially made drying agents: You can buy these over the counter (they’re basically little ear drops you put in your ears that help dry them out). But it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor before you start putting anything in your ears.
  • You’ll want to at least keep an eye out for symptoms. Talk to your doctor before your Swimmer’s Ear becomes extreme.

    Swimmer’s Ear FAQ

    • Does Swimmer’s Ear clear itself up? Maybe. Slight cases may go away after a few weeks. But until they are correctly treated, more serious cases will probably persist.
    • What are the treatments for Swimmer’s Ear? Antibiotic ear drops are generally the go-to treatment. In the case of a fungal infection, they may be antifungal ear drops.
    • If I have ear pain after going for a swim, is it always Swimmer’s Ear? Not always, although it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor either way.

    Close the Swimmer’s Ear case

    Your body is probably informing you that you are dealing with an ear infection if your ears feel itchy or painful. In other words, you don’t have to be a swimmer to experience Swimmer’s Ear. Getting medical help is the next move and you don’t have to be a detective to figure that out.

    So schedule an appointment as soon as you experience these symptoms.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.

Questions? Talk To Us.