Swimmer’s ear

June 8, 2015 by Émilie Bédard
otite baigneur
Acute otitis externa (AOE), also known as swimmer’s ear, is an inflammation of the external ear canal often caused by infection. AOE is most common in warm, humid climates. In Quebec, it is more likely to occur during the summer. People can get AOE at any age, but it is primarily seen in children aged 5 to 14 and is rare in children under 2.

Risk factors

AOE is most commonly associated with swimming. After a swim, water can stay in the ear canal and increase humidity, creating a favourable environment for bacteria and fungus growth. Other factors can cause AOE, such as skin problems (eczema, psoriasis), anatomical abnormalities, or a blockage in the ear canal (impacted cerumen). In short, anything that can damage the ear canal or trap humidity inside of it is a risk factor.


People with AOE feel pain in their ear, and it is especially painful when they touch it. The ear canal may be red and swollen. There may also be discharge in the ear, itching, hearing loss, or a feeling of fullness in the ear. This type of ear infection does not usually cause fever and is not contagious.



  • Do not put your head under water while swimming for 10 days from the start of the infection.
  • Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.
  • Treat the infection with antibiotic or corticosteroid drops (anti-inflammatory, prescribed by a doctor). The anesthetic drops sold in pharmacies are not your best option for treatment. Their effect is not long-lasting, and they can cause contact dermatitis.
  • Clean the ear canal with a soft cloth; this will make it easier for the ear drops to reach the site of inflammation and aid healing.
  • Place a lukewarm heating pad on your ear, which may also help with the pain.
  • If you often get swimmer’s ear and wish to prevent it, protect your ears with custom swim plugs.
  • For more information on custom plugs, consult an audioprosthetist.
References :
– BARRETTE, G. “L’otite du baigneur.” Québec Pharmacie 58, 4 (July–August 2012): 5–7.
– NAÎTRE ET GRANDIR. “L’otite du baigneur” [online]. Page consulted on February 23, 2014. http://naitreetgrandir.com/fr/mauxenfants/indexmaladiesa_z/fiche.aspx?doc=naitre-grandir-sante-enfant-mal-oreille-otite-baigneur
– TRINH, Ba Truc. “Les otites du baigneur.” Le Médecin du Québec 42, 11 (November 2007): 25–31.