Swimmer’s ear, officially referred to as acute external otitis, is an infection of the outer ear canal (the portion outside the eardrum). It was named “swimmer’s ear” because it’s often a result of water remaining in the outer ear after swimming, which creates a damp environment which promotes the growth of bacteria. This condition can also be the result of scratching or harming the delicate ear canal lining by using your fingers, cotton swabs, or other objects in an attempt to clean them. Fortunately swimmer’s ear is readily cured. If untreated, swimmer’s ear may cause serious complications therefore it is essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of the infection.
Swimmer’s ear crops up because the ear’s innate defenses (glands that secrete a waxy, water-repellent coating called cerumen) have become overwhelmed. Moisture in the ears, sensitivity reactions, and scrapes to the ear canal lining can all encourage the growth of bacteria, and lead to infection. Certain activities will raise your likelihood of contracting swimmer’s ear. Swimming (obviously), use of inside-the-ear devices (including hearing aids or ear buds), aggressive cleaning of the ear canal and allergies all increase your likelihood of infection.
Mild symptoms of swimmer’s ear include itching within the ear, slight discomfort or pain made worse by pulling on the ear, redness, and a colorless liquid draining from the ear. Moderate symptoms include increased itching and pain and discharge of pus-like liquids. Extreme cases of swimmer’s ear are accompanied by symptoms such as fever, severe pain which may radiate into other parts of the head, neck and face, swelling redness of the outer ear or lymph nodes, and possibly blockage of the ear canal. If untreated, complications from swimmer’s ear can be extremely serious. Complications might include short-term hearing loss, long-term ear infections, deep tissue infections which may spread to other areas of the body, and cartilage or bone loss. The possibility of serious complications means that you should see a doctor when you first suspect swimmer’s ear.
Doctors can usually diagnose swimmer’s ear after a visual examination with a lighted instrument called an otoscope. The doctor will check the eardrum in both ears to ensure that there isn’t a rupture or other damage. If you definitely have swimmer’s ear, the standard treatment consists of cautiously cleaning the ears and using prescription eardrops to combat the infectious bacteria. If the infection is serious, your doctor can also prescribe oral antibiotics to help overcome it.
Just remember these three tips to avoid contracting swimmer’s ear.
- Dry your ears thoroughly after bathing or swimming.
- Don’t swim in untreated, open bodies of water.
- Don’t insert any foreign objects in your ears in an attempt to clean them.