Swimmer’s Ear

A swimmer’s ear infection affects the external ear canal, which connects your eardrum to your head’s exterior. It is frequently caused by water that stays in your ear, which creates a wet environment that encourages the growth of germs.

Otitis externa is another name for a swimmer’s ear. Typically, ear drops can be used to treat a swimmer’s ear. The prevention of complications and more severe infections can be addressed through prompt treatment.

What causes a swimmer’s ear?

The bacterial infection known as swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, is often brought on by water that has been left in the outer ear canal for an extended length of time and has created a damp environment for bacteria to proliferate. Swimmer’s ear can affect anyone, although kids are the ones who typically have it.

What Are the Signs of a Swimmer’s Ear?

Initially, symptoms of swimmer’s ear are mild at first, but if your infection is not treated right away, they could get worse. Swimmer’s ear is typically categorized into mild, moderate, and advanced phases of progression by doctors.

Mild swimmer’s ear symptoms

  • Itchy ear canal
  • Slight irritation or redness in the ear
  • Drainage in the ear, usually comprised of an odorless fluid

Moderate progression of swimmer’s ear

  • More severe itching in the ear
  • Pain or discomfort in the ear
  • More redness in the ear
  • Fluid drainage combined with a feeling of fullness or blockage
  • Muffled hearing

Advanced progression of swimmer’s ear

  • Disturbing pain in the ears that might radiate to the side of the face, head, or neck
  • Feeling of blockage in the ear canal
  • Swelling lymph nodes
  • Redness or inflammation of the outer ear
  • High temperature which indicates infection

If you experience a high fever or severe pain with your ear problems, you need to seek medical attention right away.

Swimmer’s Ear Pain

Swimmer’s ear can sometimes be extremely uncomfortable. One way that a swimmer’s ear differs from a middle ear infection is that it aches when you wiggle or pull on your earlobe.

The ears can be itchy and swollen, making it a generally uncomfortable condition. 

Painkillers may help, but getting rid of the obstruction, moisture, or blockage may help remove the discomfort faster.

Can Swimmer’s Ear Be Prevented?

The more you are exposed to water, the more likely you are to be at risk for a swimmer’s ear. If your work or hobby entails your being exposed to the water frequently, make sure to take the needed precautions to keep your ears clean and dry. 

Swimmer’s ear can be prevented by following the simple methods below:

  • Use a towel to dry your ears thoroughly after showering or swimming.
  • Tilt your head back and forth to allow gravity to drain water out of the ears.
  • Don’t put sharp objects in your ears to avoid the risk of infection and irritation.

How Is a Swimmer’s Ear Treated? 

Depending on the kind and severity of the swimmer’s ear, you may be prescribed ear drops that include any combination of steroids to minimize inflammation, an acidic solution to help facilitate the restoration of the ear’s normal pH, and antibiotics to combat bacteria.

In cases when the ear canal is very swollen, the eardrops may not be able to penetrate. To address this concern, an audiologist will need to put an ear wick in the ear canal to help the drops go inside the ear and reach the infected site immediately.

Some people need to have their excess ear wax removed for the medicated drops to work. This should be done by an audiologist or hearing healthcare professional. Avoid attempting to manually remove ear wax because you will just risk pushing it in more or worse, you could accidentally injure your eardrum.

Swimmers Ears Risk Factors 

If you have gotten swimmer’s ear before, or are prone to ear infections, you need to be careful to avoid getting the same infection again. Below are some of the risk factors for swimmer’s ear:

  • Swimming in dirty or contaminated water
  • Irritating the ear canal with sharp objects
  • Wearing ear accessories for hearing aids which could increase the chances of water being trapped in the ear
  • Having pre-existing skin conditions such as psoriasis, acne, or eczema

Possible complications of swimmer’s ear

If treated right away, swimmer’s ear is typically not serious, but complications can occur such as temporary loss of hearing. In most cases, distorted or muffled hearing caused by a swimmer’s ear may go away if the condition is treated. However, it could also lead to persistent infection, also known as chronic otitis externa.

How is a swimmer’s ear diagnosed? 

A thorough examination of the ear canal using an otoscope is the first step in a swimmer’s ear diagnosis. A patient with a swimmer’s ear will usually have a red ear canal, with some noticeable scaly and swollen parts. The skin in the ear canal may also show some flaking or dryness. Your eardrum will also be checked to ensure that it isn’t damaged or perforated.

When to see a doctor

In some circumstances, trying a few home remedies for swimmer’s ear or waiting a day or two for the symptoms to subside might be okay. However, if your symptoms worsen over time and over-the-counter pain medicines are unable to manage your pain, you should consult a doctor right away.

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