Swimmer's ear usually isn't serious if treated promptly, but complications can occur.

  • Temporary hearing loss. You may experience muffled hearing that usually gets better after the infection clears up.
  • Long-term infection (chronic otitis externa). An outer ear infection is usually considered chronic if signs and symptoms persist for more than three months. Chronic infections are more common if there are conditions that make treatment difficult, such as a rare strain of bacteria, an allergic skin reaction, an allergic reaction to antibiotic eardrops, or a combination of a bacterial and fungal infection.
  • Deep tissue infection (cellulitis). Rarely, swimmer's ear may result in the spread of infection into deep layers and connective tissues of the skin.
  • Bone and cartilage damage (necrotizing otitis externa). An outer ear infection that spreads can cause inflammation and damage to the skin and cartilage of the outer ear and bones of the lower part of the skull, causing increasingly severe pain. Older adults, people with diabetes or people with weakened immune systems are at increased risk of this complication. Necrotizing otitis externa is also known as malignant otitis externa, but it's not a cancer.
  • More widespread infection. If swimmer's ear develops into necrotizing otitis externa, the infection may spread and affect other parts of your body, such as the brain or nearby nerves. This rare complication can be life-threatening.
Jul. 09, 2013

You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.