How Long Can Swimmers Ear Linger?

Swimmer's ear is a term used to describe outer ear or ear canal discomfort caused by infection, irritation or inflammation. It is formally known as otitis externa. If you get treatment for this disorder, you can usually resolve your symptoms in a matter of days. However, some cases of swimmer's ear linger indefinitely despite treatment. In addition, failure to seek proper treatment can lead to serious complications of your condition.

Swimmer's ear can linger indefinitely with or without treatment. (Image: beardean/iStock/Getty Images)

Normal Treatment

People with swimmer's ear usually take antibiotic ear drops for a period of 10 to 14 days, according to PubMed Health. In some cases, people with particularly swollen ear canals need to apply these drops with the help of an in-ear device called a wick. Additional potential treatments for swimmer's ear include vinegar-based ear drops, oral antibiotics, ibuprofen or other pain medications and anti-inflammatory, anti-itch medications called corticosteroids. Your doctor will typically assess the effectiveness of your treatment. In many cases, you can return to swimming or other water-based activities in a period of a week to 10 days.

Lingering and Untreated Infections

While some people experience acute cases of swimmer's ear that respond to a single medical treatment, others develop chronic outbreaks that don't respond to treatment or reappear over time, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. If you don't seek treatment for the condition, an otitis externa infection can spread to other parts of your ear, or even to the part of your skull associated with your ear. Diabetics and older individuals can develop an especially severe form of infection known as malignant otitis externa.

Reducing Your Risks

You can reduce your chances for swimmer's ear-related complications by seeking medical attention if you develop any symptoms of the disorder, including pain that gets worse when you pull on your ear, itching on your outer ear or in your ear canal, loss of your normal hearing and yellow or yellow-greenish ear drainage that smells bad or looks like pus. Additional steps to control your condition include telling your doctor about worsening or continuing symptoms during treatment and telling your doctor about the onset of a fever or other symptoms such as pain or redness in the portion of your skull behind your ear.

Prevention and Considerations

You can help prevent an initial case of swimmer's ear, or prevent swimmer's ear recurrence, by taking certain precautions, PubMed Health notes. Common steps include avoiding swimming in contaminated or polluted water, avoiding scratching your ears, avoiding inserting cotton or any other object into your ear canals, wearing earplugs when you swim -- and keeping water out of your ears when you shower, bathe or shampoo. If you get water in your ears, you can potentially prevent swimmer's ear by mixing one drop of white vinegar with one drop of alcohol and applying this mixture to each of your ear canals. If you develop a lingering case of swimmer's ear, ask your doctor for treatment advice that suits your particular circumstances.

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