Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an infection of the ear canal. The canal is a slender channel about one-inch long that leads from the outer ear to the eardrum.
Swimmer’s ear symptoms
Symptoms of swimmer’s ear can include:
- Swelling of the ear canal
- Itchy feeling in the ear
- Pain when tugging the earlobe or when chewing food
- Temporary hearing loss or their ears feeling “full.”
Patients may experience symptoms differently and at different levels of severity. It’s important to note that swimmer’s ear is different from a middle ear infection, which is common in young children.
What causes a swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear is an infection that occurs when water remains trapped in the ear canal. This moist environment is ideal for the growth of bacteria, and, in rare cases, fungus. Here are common causes of this infection:
- Some patients get swimmer’s ears from swimming, although it can happen from bathing, showering, or even sweating.
- A lack of earwax due to aggressive cleaning with cotton swabs or small objects can cause a swimmer’s ear. Earwax limits the growth of bacteria and is a natural barrier to moisture.
- Skin conditions such as eczema, and chemicals from hairspray or dyes, can also prompt this condition.
Tips for preventing swimmer’s ear
- Never put anything in the ear canal (cotton swabs, paper clips, liquids or even your finger). This can damage or irritate the skin.
- Leave ear wax in the canal.
- Do not use ear plugs. They can irritate the ear canal.
- If you swim or surf, use a bathing cap to keep water out of your ears.
- Keep your ears as dry as possible. Use a towel to dry your ears well after swimming or showering.
- Help the water run out of your ears by turning your head to each side and pulling the earlobe in different directions.
- Blow dry your ears on a low setting, holding the dryer 12 inches away.
Swimmer’s ear treatment
Treatment options include antibiotics, ear drops, and pain management, and prevention measures include drying the ears thoroughly after swimming and avoiding the use of cotton swabs. It is important to seek medical attention if symptoms persist or worsen, as complications such as hearing loss or spread of infection can occur.