Otitis externa is more commonly known by the term ‘swimmer’s ear’, and is a condition in which the outer ear becomes painful and red. Have you ever gotten swimmer’s ear without having gone swimming? Well, don’t let the common name fool you – swimmer’s ear is an infection in the middle part of the ear, and you don’t have to go near the water to get it.

A number of different germs can cause this infection including ‘pseudomonas aeruginosa’ – it can exist in water, which is why people sometimes get the infection after swimming, but that isn’t the only way to contract swimmer’s ear. Other causes include a scratch on the ear, psoriasis, or having something lodged in the ear.

What are some symptoms of swimmer’s ear? Besides pain and redness, you may have a discharge from the ear, limited hearing, itchiness, and the ear may become very sensitive to touch. The ear may feel like it is clogged, and the pain may increase when chewing.

Some people get swimmer’s ear more often than others – what are the risk factors that contribute to this condition? People who swim and shower more frequently risk greater exposure to water-borne bacteria. Cleaning out your ears too often can lead to the ear not having the amount of cerumen needed to block bacteria. Putting objects like cotton swabs or your fingers into your ears can transfer the bacteria, and having psoriasis also increases the risk. Certain hair products may contain bacteria and end up getting sprayed into the ear by accident.

So what should you do if you get swimmer’s ear? You should contact a physician as the ear needs to be cleaned out, and antibiotic drops should be prescribed and administered as directed. Usually an over-the-counter pain medicine is sufficient to deal with any discomfort. Keep your ears dry until the condition is healed, and don’t put anything in your ears even though you may be tempted to scratch them. It takes about a week and a half for swimmer’s ear to clear up completely.

To prevent swimmer’s ear be sure to dry your ears out after showering or swimming, avoid swimming in polluted water, and make sure that any pools you swim in are properly treated. Keep cotton swabs, your fingers, and other items out of your ears.

You don’t have to be afraid of the water – these few simple precautions should keep you from getting swimmer’s ear.