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Otitis Externa (Swimmer’s Ear)

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Otitis externa (commonly called swimmer’s ear) is a common inflammation, irritation or infection of the outer ear. The “swimmer’s ear” term comes from the fact that exposing the ear to water for extended periods of time can produce otitis externa. The most common symptom is ear pain.

If you suspect swimmer’s ear, see your doctor and he will advise you about the best course of treatment.

What Causes Swimmer’s Ear?

Your ear has natural protective features to help prevent infection. Glands in the ear canal secrete cerumen (ear wax) that creates a watertight seal on the skin, preventing bacterial growth.

When the ear is exposed to excess moisture, cerumen is broken down, making its defenses less effective, and the ear more susceptible to infection. Bacteria can then cause infection in the layer of skin lining the ear canal. Abrasion in the ear canal can also make the skin more susceptible to infection. Swimming in lake water, which often has higher levels of bacteria than ocean water, may also increase your chances of developing this type of ear infection.

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