Diagnosis

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.

Initial testing

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).

Further testing

Depending on the initial assessment, symptom severity or the stage of your swimmer's ear, your doctor may recommend additional evaluation.

  • 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.
May 05, 2016
References
  1. Goguen LA. External otitis: Pathogenesis, clinical features and diagnosis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 3, 2016.
  2. Goguen LA. External otitis: Treatment. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 3, 2016.
  3. Lalwani AK. Diving medicine. In: Current Diagnosis & Treatment in Otolaryngology--Head & Neck Surgery. 3rd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed Feb. 3, 2016.
  4. Swimmer's ear: Otitis externa. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/rwi/illnesses/swimmers-ear.html. Accessed Feb. 3, 2016.
  5. Papadakis MA, et al., eds. Ear, nose, & throat disorders. In: Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment 2016. 55th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2016. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed Feb. 3, 2016.
  6. Rosenfeld RM, et al. Clinical practice guideline: Acute otitis external. In: Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery. 2014;150:S1.
  7. Swimmer's ear. American Academy of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery. http://www.entnet.org/content/swimmers-ear. Accessed Feb. 3, 2016.