Swimmers' ear is the common name for otitis externa, infection of the external ear and ear canal. It is so called because it is common amongst keen swimmers. Repeatedly submerging the ears in water washes away the protective waxy layer. It also softens the underlying skin, allow bacteria and irritants to get it.
Chlorine in swimming pool water is irritating to the delicate thin skin lining the ear canal and causes further inflammation. Swimmers' ear usually starts with itching and irritation. These are a good indication to seek medical advice and early treatment with ear drops. This can prevent progression to serious infection. If left untreated then pain, discharge and bleeding may occur. Loss of hearing also happens due to blockage of the ear canal with waterlogged skin and debris may occur. These are the signs and symptoms of swimmer's ear. Flaking of the skin and excessive purulent discharge are also signs of the condition. Ear plugs may help prevent the condition, as may avoiding swimming.
Dirty fingers, pen lids and sharp fingernails are often pushed into itchy, inflamed ears. These can further damage the fragile, inflamed skin. Try not to scratch; you might make the problem worse. Early consultation with a doctor with a view to treatment can prevent the problem progressing to otitis media. This is middle ear infection which can cause a perforated eardrum and permanent hearing damage. Many Ear Nose and Throat Specialists recommend not letting any water in the ears at all if the ear drum is perforated. This is because damage to the delicate ear may be caused by the water but there is no strong body of evidence to support this.