With the arrival of summer and swimming outdoors, one of the most common ear conditions is swimmer’s ear or acute otitis externa. This mostly affects children but does also occur in adults.

When swimming in the pool or sea, water enters the ear canal leaving moisture that can lead to the growth of bacteria. This can trigger inflammation in the outermost part of the ear (the outer ear canal), this is known as swimmer’s ear.


The most common symptoms are pain, discharge, spiking fever and even hearing loss. Babies may also be inconsolable, crying and irritable.

Although the main risk factor is spending time in the pool, excessive and aggressive cleaning of the ears can also encourage swimmer’s ear to develop, as earwax is the protective barrier that prevents the growth of bacteria.

To diagnose whether you have otitis, the ear, nose and throat surgeon will take your medical history and perform an examination of your ear canal using an otoscope.

If otitis is associated with hearing loss, audiometry may also be advisable to establish to what degree.

The usual treatment for otitis externa is 7-10 days of topical antibiotic drops plus anti-inflammatory medication for pain. While you are suffering from otitis, or if you suffer from it on a recurrent basis, you should prevent water from entering your ear – swimming earplugs are the best solution for this.

Unfortunately, otitis does not only occur during the warm months, it can also be a problem during winter when acute otitis media is the more common condition. Otitis media is often a complication of a cold due to the accumulation of mucus in the middle ear facilitating bacterial growth. When the build-up is excessive the eardrum can become punctured, the mucus then drains out of the ear.

The most common risk factors for developing this type of otitis include being under two years of age, nursery attendance, absence of breast feeding, upper respiratory tract conditions, exposure to tobacco smoke and immunodeficiency.

The symptoms and methods of diagnosis in acute otitis media are similar to those in acute otitis externa, however, treatment is different. Oral antibiotics are usually taken for 10 to 14 days, although discomfort normally improves after a couple of days. Nasal decongestants and mucolytics may also be necessary.

When a person repeatedly suffers from otitis media, the ENT surgeon will assess the need for drainage to facilitate the removal of accumulated mucus.

HC Marbella International Hospital has a renowned specialist Ear, Nose and Throat team who deliver personalised care in each case.

ED Gladstone
Author: ED Gladstone

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