Acute Otitis Externa (Swimmer’s Ear)
Swimmer’s ear (also called acute otitis externa) is an infection of the outer ear canal – from the opening of the ear to the eardrum. It is usually caused by water (moisture) that stays in the ear canal after swimming. Acute (short-term) swimmer’s ear occurs when bacteria grows in this moist, dark environment. Cuts or scratches in the canal can cause breaks in the skin that also allow the bacteria to grow. These cuts/scratches are most commonly caused by the use of Q-tip cotton swabs or hairpins, scratching the inside of your ear canal with a fingernail, or wearing insert instruments such as hearing aids or earphones.
The first signs of swimmer’s ear include ear pain and a feeling of fullness in the ear. Then, the ear canal may swell and ear drainage may develop. Swimmer’s ear is typically very painful. Some patients may even require narcotic pain medications to manage their pain. The ear canal can swell shut and the affected side of the face may swell. People with swimmer’s ear usually have decreased hearing in the affected ear.
Acute otitis externa is diagnosed by careful history and a microscope examination of the ear. The main goal of treatment is to stop the infection and allow the ear canal to heal. We recommend a thorough ear cleaning in the office, pain control as needed, and use of topical antibiotic eardrops/creams. If the ear canal is very swollen, ear wicks (expandable sponges) may need to be placed. It is critical that the canal is not exposed to water as it is healing. In diabetics or people with weak immune systems, acute otitis externa can spread and become life threatening. For these patients, intravenous antibiotics and/or surgery may be required.
Why Choose Us
- Dr. Abraham Jacob, Medical Director for Ear & Hearing (E&H) at the Center for Neurosciences (CNS), is fellowship trained in Otology, Neurotology, and Cranial Base Surgery. He is the first and most experienced Neurotologist recruited to Southern Arizona.
- Dr. Jacob was a founding member of the University of Arizona (UA) Department of Otolaryngology prior to his departure and transition to CNS. At UA, he was Vice Chair of ENT surgery and held the rank of full Professor with Tenure.
- Dr. Jacob transitioned his practice to the Center for Neurosciences in early 2017 as he felt that the new environment helped to optimize delivery of personalized ear and lateral skull base care for his patients.
- Management of acute ear canal infections (otitis externa) requires thorough cleaning of the ear prior to applying topical medications. Use of topical medications without ear cleaning may not be successful since debris in the ear canal often prevents medications from reaching the underlying infected skin. Dr. Jacob has several exam rooms equipped with operating microscopes that allow him to directly visualize the ear canals. He also has specialized instruments such as micro-suctions and curettes to gently clean the ears. Should more aggressive interventions like IV antibiotics or surgery be required, Dr. Jacob has the full array of medical/surgical options available to him at Tucson Medical Center.