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Feature Article

Swimmer’s ear: what the GP needs to know

Benedict J Panizza

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Abstract

Swimmer’s ear (acute diffuse otitis externa) is usually easy to diagnose. Treatment is initiated with cleaning of the ear canal and commencement of topical antibiotic therapy. Referral is required when the condition worsens or persists despite appropriate management.

Key Points

  • Contact with water or high humidity decreases the acidity of the ear canal, and can lead to maceration of the canal lining, predisposing an individual to swimmer’s ear.
  • The mainstay of eradicating swimmer’s ear is adequate cleaning of the ear canal and topical antibiotic–corticosteroid therapy.
  • Suction cleaning is preferable, but dry swabbing of the canal with a probe and cotton wool will suffice.
  • Caution should be used with antibiotic–corticosteroid preparations when the tympanic membrane is perforated.
  • Referral to an ENT specialist is required when the condition worsens or persists despite appropriate management.

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