Doctors can usually diagnose swimmer's ear during an office visit. If your infection is at an advanced stage or persists, you may need further evaluation.
Your doctor will likely diagnose swimmer's ear based on symptoms you report, questions he or she asks, and an office examination. You probably won't need a lab test at your first visit. Your doctor's initial evaluation will usually include:
- Examination of your ear canal with a lighted instrument (otoscope). Your ear canal may appear red, swollen and scaly. Flakes of skin and other debris may be present in the ear canal.
- Visualization of your eardrum (tympanic membrane) to be sure it isn't torn or damaged. If the view of your eardrum is blocked, your doctor will clear your ear canal with a small suction device or an instrument with a tiny loop or scoop on the end (ear curette).
Depending on initial assessment, symptom severity or the stage of your swimmer's ear, your doctor may recommend additional evaluation.
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- If your eardrum is damaged or torn, your doctor will likely refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT). The specialist will examine the condition of your middle ear to determine if that's the primary site of infection. This examination is important because some treatments intended for an infection in the outer ear canal aren't appropriate for treating the middle ear.
- If your infection doesn't respond to treatment, your doctor may take a sample of discharge or debris from your ear at a later appointment and send it to a lab to identify the exact microorganism causing your infection.
- Goguen LA. External otitis: Pathogenesis, clinical features and diagnosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Goguen LA. External otitis: Treatment. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Lalwani AK. Current Diagnosis & Treatment in Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery. 3rd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=39. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Swimmer's ear: Otitis externa. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/rwi/illnesses/swimmers-ear.html. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Papadakis MA, et al. Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2013. 52nd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2013. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=1. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Kaushik V, et al. Interventions for acute otitis externa. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004740.pub2/abstract. Accessed May 3, 2013.
- Swimmer's ear. American Academy of Otolaryngology ¾ Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/swimmersEar.cfm. Accessed May 3, 2013.
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