What is otitis externa?

Otitis externa (Swimmer’s ear) is an infection of the ear and/or outer ear canal. It can cause the ear to itch or become red and inflamed so that head movement or touching of the ear is very painful. There may also be pus that drains from the ear.

What causes otitis externa?

Otitis externa is often caused by infection with a germ called Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This germ is common in the environment (soil, water) and is microscopic so that it can’t be seen with the naked eye. Although all age groups are affected by Otitis externa, it is more common in children and young adults and can be extremely painful.

How is otitis externa spread?

Having contaminated water get in the ear can give people Otitis externa. Otitis externa usually occurs within a few days of getting contaminated water or placing contaminated objects in the ear.

Is there a difference between a childhood middle ear infection and otitis externa?

Yes. Otitis externa is not the same as the common childhood middle ear infection. If you can wiggle the outer ear without pain or discomfort then your ear infection is probably not Otitis externa.

Can otitis externa be prevented?

Yes. Here are four Healthy Swimming tips for protection against Otitis externa:
Dry your ears after swimming. If it is difficult to get water out of your ear, apply a few drops of an alcohol-based ear product into the ear. Ask a pharmacist at your local drug store for this product.
Ask your pool manager about the chlorine and pH testing programme at your pool. Pools and hot tubs with good chlorine and pH control are unlikely to spread Otitis externa.
Pay attention to signage and avoid swimming in locations that have been closed because of pollution.
Avoid putting objects in the ear (e.g. fingers, cotton swabs) that may scratch the ear canal and provide a site for infection.

If you think you have otitis externa, consult your healthcare provider. Otitis externa can be treated with antibiotic ear drops.


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