Swimmer’s otitis – danger of water in the ear

Swimmer's otitis - danger of water in the ear

The sun is shining, and we humans are looking for the proximity of the water again – the bathing lakes and the sea are tempting. But be careful: bath water can get into the ear and cause bathing otitis there. “Swimming otitis” is the name of an inflammation of the external ear canal, which occurs more frequently in summer, especially during the bathing season. The painful inflammation is caused by germs – primarily bacteria – which can enter the ear with the bath water.

Danger: Inflammation of the auditory canal

There may still be water in the external auditory canal, especially after frequent and prolonged stays in lakes or the sea. In the warm, humid environment of the narrow auditory canal (path from the auricle to the eardrum), there are optimal conditions for the growth of fungi and bacteria.

After just a few hours, this can become noticeable as itching or pain. The incipient inflammation can subside spontaneously but worsen and become a painful middle ear infection. “Bathroom otitis” is one of the inflammations of the external auditory canal, called “otitis externa” in technical jargon.


Symptoms of swimmer’s ear can include:

  • Strong pain
  • feeling of pressure
  • discharge and itching
  • swelling of the ear canal
  • possible loss of hearing

If these symptoms occur, a doctor should be consulted. After a detailed anamnesis, the doctor can conduct an ear examination, clean the ear canal and, depending on the pathogen, carry out a local treatment with antibiotics or antimycotics.

Complication: otitis media

By spreading germs, the pathogens can get into the middle ear and cause infection. Inflammation of the middle ear (otitis media) is a – usually excruciating – inflammation of the mucous membranes of the middle ear, which is often accompanied by effusion. It manifests as a stabbing earache, hearing loss, fever and a “pounding” in the ear. Chills, dizziness, vomiting, hearing loss or a poor general condition also indicate otitis media.

In some cases, the eardrum ruptures and blood and pus flow from the ear. The pain then abruptly subsides. A tear in the eardrum is usually noticeable in adults due to hearing loss. If ear infections often occur in the summer after swimming, this can be a sign of a perforation of the eardrum that has not yet been recognized.

The doctor treats otitis media with antibiotics, which the patient has to take for several days. In addition, decongestant nose drops are administered. These increase secretion drainage and thus contribute to better middle-ear ventilation. The intake of painkillers and the ear’s red light or heat irradiation support the treatment. With these measures, the symptoms usually subside within a few days.


Tips for healthy bathing

  •  Water can get into the ear when swimming, bathing or showering . Water is usually harmless in the external auditory canal. It is essential to ensure that the ear dries quickly. To do this, tilt your head to the side so the water can run out. Hold a towel under your ear to soak up the water.
  • Under no circumstances should you use cotton swabs; otherwise, the skin softened by the water will be damaged.
  • Water that sits in the ear canal for a long time and softens the skin can cause inflammation. Inflammation is noticeable through pain and should be treated by a doctor!
  • Wearing a bathing cap will protect your ears. This measure is handy for sensitive people.
  • If you have damaged ears or have just had an ear operation, you have to be careful that no water gets into your ears. It is best to avoid swimming and bathing for a while. Caution is also required when showering.

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