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Swimmers Ear: Not Just a Swimmer’s Problem

Swimmers Ear: Not Just a Swimmer’s Problem

Swimmers ear is an irritating condition that can affect anyone, although it’s most common in children. When moisture enters the ear canal and gets trapped, it can cause a bacterial infection which is painful and needs medical attention. Kari Loehr is Ogden Clinic’s newest Audiologist practicing in Bountiful. She shares what an outer ear infection feels like and what to do if you suspect one.

Is swimmers ear different than an ear infection?

Swimmers ear is caused by water that remains in the ear canal, creating a moist environment that can cause bacteria to grow into an infection. Swimmers ear is also known as otitis externa. It is possible for Swimmers ear to progress into an ear infection for a couple reasons.

  • First, pool and lake water harbors bacteria which you don’t want trapped inside your ear.
  • Second, the moisture in the outer ear can migrate to the middle ear where an infection becomes very likely (otitis media).

Not just swimmers and kids! "Kids tend to put themselves in more wet-ear situations like jumping in a pool or playing on a Slip & Slide®. But adults can get swimmer ear too. Occasionally, I see swimmers ear caused by hearing aids. When moisture enters the ear and is blocked by a hearing aid, infections are possible.” –Kari Loehr AuD

Symptoms of swimmers ear

In adults and kids, signs of a bacterial ear infection are:

  • A full or plugged-up ear sensation
  • Itching inside the ear
  • Pain that increases when the ear is moved up or down
  • Pain when pushing on the tab of tissue in front of the ear
  • Redness or swelling of the outer ear

Adults can usually feel an ear ache progressing, but it might not be as apparent in children. Here are some behaviors to look for in kids:

  • A child pulling on his/her ear
  • Tenderness, redness, swelling, or itchiness of the ear
  • Children who are having trouble sleeping, have decreased appetite, or seem more fussy
  • Decreased hearing
  • Clear fluid or any type of drainage coming from the ear

When to see a doctor for swimmers ear

Unfortunately, by the time you or your child experience symptoms, self-care is not recommended and it’s time to see a doctor. “Symptoms like chronic itchiness, swelling, or drainage point to an infection which will require treatment from a healthcare provider,” says Kari Loehr.

Rest assured, ear infections usually respond very well to a prescription of antibiotics. Your doctor may also remove pus or drainage during the visit. However, infections do not go away on their own and symptoms can worsen if treatment isn’t sought.

Ear plugs for prevention

While ear infections can’t always be prevented, there are some measures you can take. “If your child has had ear tubes or past problems with their ears, I recommend investing in ear plugs for when they’re in water. We can make custom ones here in our office,” says Kari. Custom molded ear plugs can also be made for adults.


Kari Loehr, Audiologist at Ogden Clinic in Utah

Kari Loehr is an Audiologist practicing at Mountain West ENT | Ogden Clinic in Bountiful. She specializes in hearing and balance assessments for all age groups, hearing aid evaluations and fittings, and treatment of chronic dizziness and balance problems. Make an appointment with Kari Loehr AuD here.