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Common Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear and When to See a Doctor

As temperatures rise this summer, people will be spending much more time in the water—from pools to lakes to oceans—to cool off. Let’s review the common symptoms of swimmer’s ear  since it can affect swimmers of all ages.

What is swimmer’s ear?

Before we dive into the common symptoms of swimmer’s ear, we want to explain what swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, is. To summarize, swimmer’s ear is an infection in the outer ear canal.

The outer ear canal goes from the outside of your ear to your eardrum. Often, swimmer’s ear is caused by water that remains in your ear. It leads to a moist environment that is perfect for the growth of bacteria.

Swimmer’s ear can also be caused when you damage the thin layer of skin lining your ear canal. You can damage the thin protective layer by putting your fingers, cotton swabs or other items in your ears.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may vary from person to person. However, there are common symptoms to look for. Generally, symptoms start out mildly. Below is a list of the most common symptoms associated with swimmer’s ear.

  • Itching in your ear
  • Redness or swelling of the ear canal
  • Pain when gently pulling or wiggling your ear
  • Fluid draining
  • Muffled hearing
  • Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
  • Ear feels plugged or blocked
  • Fever

When to see a doctor

These symptoms could progress and intensify if left untreated. Therefore, it is a good idea to contact your doctor when you or a loved one experiences any of the symptoms above. Contact your medical professional right away if you experience severe pain or have a fever.

Typically, swimmer’s ear can be treated with ear drops. It generally clears up within seven to 10 days with treatment.


Now that you know the common symptoms of swimmer’s ear and when to see a doctor, consider investing in a pair of ear plugs before you jump right in. You could also pay attention to high bacteria warnings in lakes, for example, to help lower your risk as well. For more ear, nose and throat health news, keep reading our blogs!