Despite the name, you do not necessarily have to be a swimmer to get swimmer's ear. The risk of developing this condition goes up when water sits in your ear, but anything that irritates the canal may lead to an infection. Whether it affects the outer ear and jaw depends on a number of factors. If you have an earache or swelling, consult your doctor for treatment.
Otitis externa is the medical name for what most people know as swimmer's ear. Put simply, this is a bacteria or fungal infection in the front section of the ear canal. At the onset, you may notice the ear itches. As the infection progresses, you can experience pain and drainage plus crust around the opening of the ear. Swelling that goes beyond the canal indicates the infection has spread into the tissue around the ear. Any skin near the ear is at risk. Once the infection begins to move outward, it can reach places further away such as the jaw. At the first sign of an ear infection, see your doctor for treatment to avoid serious complications.
Cellulitis describes an infection in the deep layers of the skin and may be a complication of swimmer's ear. The outer ear is made up of cartilage and skin. As bacteria grows inside the ear canal, it may spread in either direction, meaning it can infect the skin on the head and face, as well as the middle ear. If you have otitis externa and develop swelling in the outer ear and jaw, this may mean you have an infection in the skin on those two regions. Cellulitis is a serious problem that requires treatment. It can lead to abscesses, blood infections or even tissue death.
Swelling in the outer ear does not necessarily mean you have swimmer's ear. The outer, fleshy part that surrounds the canal consists of thick, flexible cartilage with a covering known as the perichondrium. When an infection sets into the perichondrium, there will be significant swelling that may nothing to do with an ear infection. Perichondritis, or infection of the perichondrium, often comes from trauma, such as a piecing. It is possible the infection comes from the ear, but you can have swelling in this area even if you do not have otitis externa.
It is the lymph nodes that help the body fight off infections such as swimmer's ear. When an infection is detected, the lymph nodes may swell. Two key nodes that can enlarge when you have an ear infection sit under the jaw. If you have an ear infection and notice swelling in the jaw, this may be from the lymph nodes. Swollen lymph nodes, especially if you are not aware of an infection, should be examined to rule out a medical problem. Jaw swelling also may indicate an abscessed tooth or another medical problem that requires treatment.