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Swimmer's Ear Causes & Risks


Otitis externa can develop under the following circumstances:

  • Following frequent swimming or bathing when the ears are repeatedly filled with water and not drained completely afterward
  • After removal of protective ear wax, especially if the cleaning is painful and causes bleeding
  • Excessive use of cotton swabs to clean ears
  • Injury to the skin in the ear canal
  • As a consequence of skin conditions that also can occur in the ear canal, such as:

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

The following factors increase your chance of developing otitis externa:

  • Frequent swimming or showering, particularly in young children who have narrow ear canals
  • Insertion of any object into the ear canal causing damage to the lining
  • Skin conditions causing breaks in the skin of the ear canal
  • Diabetes
  • Medical conditions resulting in a compromised immune system

People with weak immune systems or who have a chronic illness, such as diabetes or AIDS , may suffer an aggressive form called malignant otitis externa. This life-threatening condition requires immediate treatment, hospitalization, intravenous antibiotics, and surgery (if needed). Malignant otitis externa results in infection of the cartilage and bone around the ear, as well as between the ear and the brain (the skull base). The condition can be severe and difficult to treat, causing nerve paralysis .

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Copyright © 2022 EBSCO Publishing All rights reserved.

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