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Swimmer’s Ear: All You Need to Know

Swimmer’s ear is an infection that affects the eardrum to the outside of the head. Commonly known as an infection of the outer ear canal, swimmer’s ear is often brought about by water that remains in the ear which creates a wet environment that facilitates the growth of bacteria.

Putting sharp objects inside the ear canal such as fingers or cotton swabs can lead to swimmer’s ear. Once the thin layer of skin lining in the ear canal is damaged, swimmer’s ear is most likely to occur.

Swimmer’s Ear = Otitis Externa

Another term commonly used for swimmer’s ear is otitis externa. In most cases, swimmer’s ear can be treated with eardrops. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can significantly help prevent complications or more serious ear infections.

Causes of Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear is mainly caused by bacteria, but it can also be caused by a virus or fungus that has managed to penetrate the ears.

Generally, the ear has its natural defenses which include the thin, water-repellent acidic film lining the ear canal, earwax, and the structure of the outer ear. When these natural defenses are damaged, perforated, or scratched, the ears are susceptible to penetration by dirt, bacteria, and other foreign objects.

Swimmer’s Ear Symptoms

Generally, swimmer’s ear symptoms start off as mild or unnoticeable. However, once the infection worsens, the symptoms can become more intense. Medical practitioners usually classify swimmer’s ear symptoms as mild, moderate, or advanced.

The factors below can additionally trigger swimmer’s ear:

  • Exposure to dirty water
  • Moisture in the ear canal
  • Poking the ear canal with sharp objects
  • Ear accessories or devices which could irritate the skin of the ear canal

Mild swimmer’s ear symptoms

  • Occasional itching of the ear canal
  • Mild redness in the ear canal
  • Mild pain or discomfort when pulling the outer ear or tragus
  • Slight drainage (odorless, clear)

Moderate swimmer’s ear

  • More frequent itching of the ear canal
  • Higher pain or discomfort in the ear canal
  • Increased redness of the ear
  • Muffled hearing
  • A feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear canal
  • Excessive drainage

Advanced swimmer’s ear symptoms

  • Fever
  • Intense pain that radiates to the neck, side of the head, or face
  • Swelling and redness of the outer ear
  • Swelling of lymph nodes
  • Ear canal blockage

When to see a doctor

If you experience any mild symptoms of swimmer’s ear, schedule an appointment with a doctor. Contact your primary care physician immediately if you experience fever or severe pain.

How is swimmer’s ear diagnosed?

To confirm the presence of swimmer’s ear, an examination of the ear canal will be carried out using an otoscope. An ear that is affected by otitis externa will appear red, scaly, and/or swollen. There might be debris and skin flakes in the ear canal as well. 

The next thing that needs to be checked during the examination is the integrity of the eardrum. Ideally, the eardrum should be intact, without any signs of tears or damage.

Can Swimmer’s Ear Be Prevented? 

Just like any infection, swimmer’s ear can be prevented. Below are some hygienic tips to protect your ears from being attacked by bacteria that could cause swimmer’s ear:

  • Keep ears dry. If you are fond of diving, swimming, or taking long hot baths, make sure to keep your ears dry afterward. Drain water from your ear canals by tipping your head to the side. 
  • Avoid putting sharp, foreign objects in the ear. This is common advice heard from audiologists and hearing healthcare practitioners. While it may be tempting to scratch the itchy part of the ears using a cotton swab, your fingers, or a hairpin, it’s just a big NO because doing so could irritate the sensitive skin inside the ear.
  • Protect the ears from dirt and irritants. Avoid swimming in dirty water and make sure to wear earplugs or a swimming cap to protect your ears.

How Is Swimmer’s Ear Treated? 

The most common treatment approach for swimmer’s ear is prescribing eardrops with a combination of acidic solution, antibiotics, and steroids. The acidic solution will help restore the antibacterial environment of the ear. The antibiotic will fight the bacteria and the steroid will reduce inflammation.

Swimmers Ears: Complications 

If addressed right away, swimmer’s ear is not something to be worried about. However, there are unavoidable complications if the concern is not treated right away:

  • Temporary hearing loss
  • Bone and cartilage damage
  • Chronic otitis externa 
  • Deep tissue infection
  • Spreading of the infection to nearby body parts

Audiologists in New Albany, IN

Getting an ear infection may be a nuisance, especially if it is left untreated and the infection becomes complicated. As soon as you notice something wrong with your ears, getting a consultation with an audiologist is recommended. Early detection of swimmer’s ear can significantly reduce complications.

Doctor’s Hearing Care offers comprehensive hearing consultations in New Albany, IN and nearby areas. 

Contact us today to schedule a consultation!

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Our goal is to evaluate and treat hearing loss focusing on individual needs, so that every person, regardless of age, is given the opportunity to communicate and interact with others to the best of their ability.

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Find the freedom of better hearing.

Our goal is to evaluate and treat hearing loss focusing on individual needs, so that every person, regardless of age, is given the opportunity to communicate and interact with others to the best of their ability.