Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa) - Minnesota Dept. of Health

Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa)

Ear infections can be caused by leaving contaminated water in the ear after swimming. This infection, known as "swimmer's ear" or otitis externa, is not the same as the common childhood middle ear infection. The infection occurs in the outer ear canal and can cause pain and discomfort. All age groups are affected by swimmer's ear although it is more common in children.

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Symptoms usually appear within a few days of swimming and include:

  • Itchiness inside the ear.
  • Redness and swelling of the ear.
  • Pain when the infected ear is tugged or when pressure is placed on the ear.
  • Pus draining from the infected ear.

Symptoms are usually mild at first, but they may get worse if the infection spreads or is not treated. If you think you have swimmer's ear, consult your healthcare provider. Swimmer's ear can be treated with antibiotic ear drops.


Swimmer's ear can occur when water stays in the ear canal for long periods of time, providing the perfect environment for germs to grow and infect the skin. Germs found in pools and at other recreational water venues are one of the most common causes of swimmer's ear.

Swimmer's ear cannot be spread from one person to another.


To reduce the risk of swimmer's ear:

  • Keep your ears as dry as possible.
    • Use a bathingcap, ear plugs, or custom-fitted swim molds when swimming.
  • Dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or showering.
    • Use a towel to dry your ears well.
    • Tilt your head to hold each ear facing down to allow water to escape the ear canal.
    • Pull your earlobe in different directions while your ear is faced down to help water drain out.
      • If you still have water left in your ears, consider using a hair dryer to move air within the ear canal.
      • Put the dryer on the lowest heat and speed/fan setting.
      • Hold the dryer several inches from your ear.
  • Don't put objects in your ear canal (including cotton-tip swabs, pencils, paperclips, or fingers).
  • Don't try to remove ear wax. Ear wax helps protect your ear canal from infection.
    • If you think that your ear canal is blocked by ear wax, consult your healthcare provider.
  • Consult your healthcare provider about using ear drops after swimming.
    • Drops should not be used by people with ear tubes, damaged ear drums, outer ear infections, or ear drainage (pus or liquid coming from the ear).
  • Ask your pool/hot tub operator if disinfectant and pH levels are checked regularly—hot tubs and pools with proper disinfectant and pH levels are less likely to spread germs.

More Information

  • CDC: Ear Infection
    Swimmer's Ear (Otitis Externa) is not the same as the common childhood middle ear infection. Learn more below about two of the three main kinds of ear infections: otitis media with effusion and acute otitis media (AOM).

Do you suspect that you have a foodborne or waterborne illness? Visit reporting suspected foodborne/waterborne illnesses.

Updated Tuesday, 09-Nov-2021 12:25:36 CST