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Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa)

It’s summer so watch out! Otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear, is a common ear infection that usually occurs in the warm summer months when we’re all doing a lot of swimming. It results when the outer canal of the ear becomes inflamed and infected, often appearing red, hot or swollen. Common symptoms include:

  • Ear pain – especially tender to touch or lie on
  • Discharge from the ear – can have an odour and often a greeny-yellow appearance
  • Blocked feeling in the ear
  • Reduction in hearing in that ear
  • Ringing in the ear


Treatment includes:

  • Keeping the ear canal dry until the infection resolves by using an ear-plug when showering or taking a bath.
  • Use of a topical ear drop, which is often a combination of an antibiotic, an anti-fungal and a steroid. This aims to kill the infection and reduce the inflammation in the ear canal. To insert the drops, lie on the opposite ear and administer the drops. Then “pump the tragus” (push on the skin at the front of the ear canal) approximately a dozen times to ensure the drops make their way down the ear canal and remain lying down for 10 minutes or so.
  • Pain relief – usually an anti-inflammatory (e.g. Nurofen) or paracetamol is sufficient but sometimes codeine-based medication is needed
  • Avoid swimming in pools while the ear canal is infected and for up to a week after the infection has resolved.
  • Sometimes, the ear infection does not resolve with these simple measures and other techniques need to be used including:
    • Use of a wick inserted into the ear canal.
    • Oral antibiotics.
    • Review by an Ear Nose and Throat surgeon to clean debris from the ear canal.


As they say, prevention is better than cure, so it’s important to protect your ears from further problems. Common tips include:

  • Using AquaEar immediately after swimming – this ensures a more acidic environment in the ear canal to prevent growth of pathogens that cause these infections.
  • Avoiding inserting cotton buds into the ear canal.
  • Use of a hair dryer on a cool setting to blow dry air into the ear canal – this assists in drying the canal to prevent subsequent infections.
  • After a bout of otitis externa, a person is prone to developing this infection again, especially within the first 3 months, so maintaining a dry, healthy ear canal is paramount.

If you develop any of these symptoms or have concerns about your ears, book an appointment with your GP to have it looked at!

IMPORTANT NOTE: This information is a guide only and does not replace the in-person assessment of a qualified medical practitioner.