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Ear Exam

Otitis Externa

Otitis Externa


Otitis externa, commonly known as "swimmer's ear," is an inflammatory condition that affects the outer ear canal, which is the portion of the ear between the visible part of the ear (pinna) and the eardrum.


Otitis externa often occurs due to moisture getting trapped in the ear canal, providing an environment conducive to bacterial or fungal growth. While it's called swimmer's ear because it can be triggered by water exposure, it can also develop from other causes.


While anyone can get swimmer’s ear, it is most often seen in children. Swimmer’s ear cannot be spread from one person to another.


Symptoms of otitis externa may include the following progressing from mild to severe:

  • Ear pain or discomfort, often worsened by tugging on the ear or moving the jaw

  • Itching in the ear canal

  • Swelling of the ear canal

  • Redness and inflammation of the ear canal

  • Discharge from the ear, which can be clear, yellow, or pus-like

  • Temporary hearing loss due to ear canal blockage

  • Redness or swelling of your outer ear

  • Swelling in the lymph nodes in your neck

  • Fever

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In most cases, OM resolves itself within a few weeks without treatment. However, if symptoms are severe or persistent, treatment may be necessary.


Treatment options for OM include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants

  • Nasal sprays

  • Antibiotics (if an infection is present)

  • Allergy medications (if allergies are a trigger)

  • Eustachian tube dilation, learn more here

  • Ear tubes (surgery to place small tubes in the eardrums to help drain fluid), learn more here

If you think you or your child may have OM, be sure to see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.


If left untreated, swimmer's ear can lead to complications such as deep tissue infections, cellulitis, or even infection of the underlying bone. It's essential to address persistent or worsening symptoms promptly.

When to Seek Help

If you suspect you have swimmer's ear or are experiencing symptoms, consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Early intervention can prevent complications and expedite recovery.

Swimmer's ear may be a common ailment, but with proper prevention and timely treatment, its impact can be minimized. 

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