Avoid Oral Antibiotics for 'Swimmer's Ear'

New guidelines stress use of medicated ear drops instead

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SUNDAY, June 4, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Antiseptic or antibiotic ear drops should be front-line treatment for swimmer's ear, and doctors should use restraint in using oral antibiotics for the common condition.

So conclude the first-ever U.S. national treatment guidelines, which were crafted by a panel of experts from multiple disciplines, including otolaryngology, pediatrics and infectious diseases.

Swimmer's ear is an infection of the outer ear and ear canal. It's often caused by water becoming trapped in the ear during swimming, showering or bathing. It can also be caused by cleaning or scratching the ear and skin conditions such as psoriasis or acne.

Symptoms can include redness and swelling, itching, mild to moderate ear pain, or a feeling that the ears are blocked. There may also be fever, pus drainage, decreased hearing, swollen lymph nodes and radiating pain.

The expert panel developed the guidelines after they reviewed thousands of articles and studies dating back to the 1960s. Their findings and recommendations include:

  • The condition should first be treated with antiseptic or antibiotic ear drops, which inhibit bacterial growth. These drops usually relieve the pain within a day and clear up the condition within a week. Doctors should show patients how to use the ear drops to ensure that they're effective.
  • Oral antibiotics should be used with restraint, unless the patient has other conditions such as diabetes or some immune diseases. Studies suggest that oral antibiotics are less effective for swimmer's ear, and they have more side effects.
  • Ear candles have not been shown to be an effective treatment for swimmer's ear and can have harmful side effects, such as burning or perforating the ear drum.
  • Avoid swimmer's ear by using ear plugs to keep out moisture or by drying the ears with a hair dryer. Avoid water that may be polluted.
  • Do not put fingers or other objects -- including cotton swabs -- in the ear. This can damage the ear or push material deeper into the ear canal.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about swimmer's ear.

SOURCE: University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, news release, May 23, 2006

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