Otitis Externa (swimmer’s ear)

Otitis externa, or swimmer’s ear, is an infection in the outer ear canal. This canal goes from the outside of the ear to the eardrum.

Ear Anatomy


Return to the emergency department if:

  • You have severe ear pain.
  • You are suddenly unable to hear at all.
  • You have new swelling in your face, behind your ears, or in your neck.
  • You suddenly cannot move part of your face.
  • Your face suddenly feels numb.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • Your signs and symptoms do not get better after 2 days of treatment.
  • Your signs and symptoms go away for a time, but then come back.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor’s order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions. Do not give these medicines to children under 6 months of age without direction from your child’s healthcare provider.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor’s order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • Ear drops that contain an antibiotic may be given. The antibiotic helps treat a bacterial infection. You may also be given steroid medicine. The steroid helps decrease redness, swelling, and pain.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

How to use eardrops:

  • Lie down on your side with your infected ear facing up.
  • Carefully drip the correct number of eardrops into your ear. Have another person help you if possible.
  • Gently move the outside part of your ear back and forth to help the medicine reach your ear canal.
  • Stay lying down in the same position (with your ear facing up) for 3 to 5 minutes.

Prevent otitis externa:

  • Do not put cotton swabs or foreign objects in your ears.
  • Wrap a clean moist washcloth around your finger, and use it to clean your outer ear and remove extra ear wax.
  • Use ear plugs when you swim. Dry your outer ears completely after you swim or bathe.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.