Infective otitis externa

What is Infective Otitis Externa?

Infective Otitis Externa (IOE or swimmer’s ear) is an infection of the outer ear canal that occurs when bacteria and/ or fungi enter the outer ear. The infection can range from mild to severe, with symptoms that range from pain and itchiness to more severe ones, like hearing loss and fever. IOE is more common in summer months due to the high humidity and temperature levels which can create the perfect environment for bacteria and fungi to grow. Infective Otitis Externa is also common with recreational water activities (i.e swimming, diving, underwater sports), as trapped water can easily create the perfect environment for bacteria and fungi to thrive.

Symptoms of IOE

Some common symptoms of IOE are:

  • Discomfort (burning, itching, pain) in the ear or around the ear
  • Drainage (clear fluid or pus) from the ear
  • Swelling around the ear
  • Redness or irritation of the outer ear
  • Hearing loss
  • Fever (in some cases)


The goal of treating IOE is to reduce inflammation and eliminate any infection. Treatment includes:

  • Topical antibiotic medications for that are applied directly to the ears (e.g. Ciprodex)
  • Oral antibiotics, to reduce swelling and kill bacteria, when needed.
  • In some cases, oral anti-fungal medications may be prescribed if there is evidence of a fungal infection in your ear.
  • Keep the ear clean and dry (avoid swimming or activities that might get water into the ear canal)
  • Apply warm compresses to the ear (no more than 10 minutes at a time)
  • Keep the ear free of dirt and debris; avoid using any cotton swabs, as this may push the infection deeper into the ear


To reduce the risk of IOE, the following measures should be taken:

  • Avoid swimming in contaminated water
  • Dry your ears well after swimming and showering
  • Avoid activities that will introduce water into your ear canal, such as diving or underwater sports
  • Avoid using cotton swabs in your outer ear canal
  • Wear ear plugs while swimming
  • Use a swim cap to minimize water introduction into the ear