The summer is in full swing, which means many of us will be looking to spend time in the water.
Whether you are playing water sports, having a leisurely swim at the pool, or just floating around to cool off, there is always the risk of developing swimmer’s ear. Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, is a bacterial infection typically caused by water that becomes trapped in the outer ear canal for too long, creating an ideal moist environment for bacteria to thrive. Though it is most common in children, anyone can get swimmer’s ear, and it can lead to other more serious infections if left untreated, so it is important to know what it is, how to prevent it, and what to do if you get it. Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:
- Itchiness inside the ear
- Ear feels swollen or blocked
- Clear, odorless drainage from the ear
- Redness and swelling in the ear
Advanced cases of swimmer’s ear may include:
- Temporary hearing impairment
- Pain that spreads to the head and neck
- Redness and swelling of the skin around the ear
- Drainage with an odor If left untreated
Swimmer’s ear can lead to recurring ear infections (also known as chronic otitis externa), bone and cartilage damage, and hearing loss. Your primary care physician can examine the ear to ensure there is no eardrum perforation that would allow moisture to penetrate the middle ear and cause further damage. Once it has been determined that there is no such perforation, the doctor can clean the infected area to relieve pain and will most likely prescribe antibiotic ear drops to clear up the infection. Advanced swimmer’s ear infections may require oral antibiotics and supplemental pain medication to heal. The infected ear should be kept dry to avoid further bacterial infection during the healing process. Here are a few tips to prevent swimmer’s ear:
- Keep ears dry – use a bathing cap or earplugs while swimming.
- Dry ears thoroughly after swimming.
- If there is water in your ear, tilt your head back and forth, pulling your earlobe in different directions when the ear is facing down to help water drain out.
- If there is still water in your ear, try using a hairdryer on the lowest heat and power setting to dry your ear.
- Ask your healthcare provider about using ear-drying drops after swimming to prevent swimmer’s ear.
While enjoying the sun and the water this summer, be sure to practice swimmer’s ear prevention and be aware of any developing symptoms so you can treat any problems early and effectively. Cdc.gov. 2021.