What Is Swimmer’s Ear
Articles On Swimmer’s Ear
If you’re like a lot of folks, you probably think of swimmer’s ear as an unwelcome souvenir of a beach vacation. And while the painful ear condition is often linked to a dunk in the ocean or the pool, the truth is you can get it on dry land, too.
No matter how you got your swimmer’s ear, once you learn to recognize the signs, you have plenty of options to treat it.
Swimmer’s ear, which has the medical name of otitis externa, is an infection in your ear canal. That’s the tube that runs from the hole on the outside of your ear to your eardrum.
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Swimmer’s ear is different from the common ear infection that your young child often gets after a cold. Those are middle ear infections, or “otitis media” in doctor speak, and they happen deeper in the ear, behind the eardrum.
Usually, swimmer’s ear is caused by bacteria, but it can sometimes be brought on by a virus or fungus. Symptoms you may get are:
- Itchiness in the ear
- Pain, which can become severe
- Trouble hearing
- Fluid or pus draining out of the ear
Here’s one way to tell which type of ear infection you have. If it hurts when you tug or press your ear, you may have swimmer’s ear.
Why Do People Get Swimmer’s Ear?
Most of the time, your ear fights off the germs that cause swimmer’s ear on its own. You can thank your earwax for that. While it doesn’t get much respect, earwax helps protect the ear canal from damage and makes it hard for germs to grow.
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Look For Visible Symptoms
If your child is experiencing ear pain, these signals are especially helpful: With swimmer’s ear, the outer ear may appear red and swollen and have a rash-like appearance. You may see your child frequently scratch at his ear or complain of an itchy ear. Also watch for a foul-smelling drainagecoming from the ear bothering them. Symptoms to watch for with a middle ear infection include fever, pulling or tugging on the ear, decreased appetite, diarrhea or vomiting.
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This article is not medical advice. It is intended for general informational purposes and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your physician or dial 911.
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What Causes An Outer Ear Infection
Swimming can lead to an outer ear infection. The water left inside the ear canal can become a breeding ground for bacteria.
An infection can also occur if the thin layer of skin that lines the ear canal is injured. Intense scratching, using headphones, or placing cotton swabs in your ear can damage this delicate skin.
When this layer of skin becomes damaged and inflamed, it can provide a foothold for bacteria. Cerumen is the ears natural defense against infection, but constant exposure to moisture and scratching can deplete the ear of cerumen, making infections more likely.
Severe pain in the face, head, or neck can signify that the infection has advanced considerably. Symptoms accompanied by a fever or swollen lymph nodes may also indicate advancing infection. If you have ear pain with any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away.
Helping Your Treatment Work
During treatment, do the following to help keep your ears dry and avoid further irritation:
- Dont swim or go scuba diving.
- Dont wear an earplug, a hearing aid or earbuds before pain or discharge has stopped.
- Avoid getting water in your ear canal when showering or bathing. Use a cotton ball coated with petroleum jelly to protect your ear during a shower or bath.
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Outer Ear Infection In Children
Children, especially those who spend a lot of time in the water, are particularly prone to outer ear infections. Their ear canals are smaller than adults ear canals, making it more difficult for fluid to properly drain out of childrens ears. This can lead to increased infections.
Ear pain is the most common symptom of an outer ear infection. Younger children or children who cant speak may present with symptoms like:
- pulling on or tugging near their ear
- crying when touching their ear
- having fever, in rare cases
- being fussy, crying more than usual, or having trouble sleeping
- having fluid draining from the ear
Is It Dangerous To Swim With An Ear Infection
Summer is here, temperatures are rising, and kids want to get outside and cool off. It can be crushing for your little ones if they have to miss out on the chance to go swimming because of an ear infection. But do they have to stay out of the water? In this months blog, we explore the differences between swimmers ear and a middle ear infection and discuss whether it is safe to go back into the water.
Swimmers EarAlso known as otitis externa, swimmers ear is an infection of the outer ear, commonly caused by excess moisture remaining in the ear, which enables bacteria to grow. The bacteria that causes this type of infection can also grow in scratches to the ear canal lining .
Symptoms range from itching in the ear canal, discharge, and mild discomfort that can be felt when the outer ear is touched, to muffled hearing in more moderate cases or even severe pain, blockage of the ear canal, and fever in advanced cases. Typically, swimmers ear is treated first with a thorough cleaning. The Mayo Clinic notes that cleaning your outer ear canal is necessary to help ear drops flow to all infected areas. Your doctor will use a suction device or ear curette to clean away discharge, clumps of earwax, flaky skin and other debris. Then, ear drops are used to clear up the infection, plus over-the-counter pain relievers, as needed.
Once diagnosed, can we go swimming?
- with swimmers ear = NO
- with a middle ear infection = YES
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What Is External Otitis
The medical terms for swimmers ear are external otitis or otitis externa. Swimmers ear is an infection of the ear canal that can be caused by many different types of bacteria or fungi. It usually develops in ears that are exposed to moisture.
People who get external otitis often have been diving or swimming for long periods of time. This can bring infectious bacteria directly into the ear canal. External otitis occurs most often during the summer months when more people are participating in water activities.
People who dont swim can also develop external otitis by scratching their ear canals when they try to clean their ears. This is especially true if they use cotton-tipped applicators or dangerously sharp small objects, like hair clips or bobby pins. Sometimes, in a person with a middle ear infection , pus collected in the middle ear can drain into the ear canal through a hole in the eardrum and cause otitis externa to develop.
Swimmers Ear Infection Treatments For Houston Residents
Typically, the early stages of Swimmers Ear can be easily treated with medication, but if the infection spreads or intensifies, more specialized treatments will be necessary. At Houston Sinus & Allergy, our experienced ear specialist Dr. Nguyen can examine your condition and determine the severity, and which level of treatment would be most effective.
I have swimmer ear infection
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Malignant External Otitis Or Necrotizing External Otitis
If the infection reaches the bone and cartilage of the outer ear, it can cause inflammation and damage that extends to the lower part of the skull.
The condition is very painful, and it can be life-threatening. Those most at risk are adults with weakened immune systems.
If the infection spreads to the eardrum, a buildup of pus can cause inflammation in the area and perforate the eardrum.
This will normally heal within 2 months. A doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics, and it is important to keep the ear dry.
Can Swimmers Ear Be Prevented
Absolutely. Using over-the-counter ear drops made of a dilute solution of acetic acid or alcohol after swimming can help to prevent swimmers ear, especially in children who frequently suffer from it. These drops are available without a prescription at drugstores. Do not give these drops to children with ear tubes or a perforated eardrum antibiotic ear drops can be used in these cases.
Ear plugs can also limit moisture during swimming. If your child is prone to wax impaction, removing the impacted earwax can help avoid blockage and infection. You can also use a hair dryer on low setting to help dry out moisture after swimming. Remember to never put objects in the ears, including cotton-tipped swabs.
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Diagnosis Of Ear Canal Infection
A doctor’s examination of the ear canal
Sometimes culture of a sample from the ear canal
The doctor bases the diagnosis of ear canal infection on the symptoms and an examination of the ear canal. To a doctor looking into the ear canal through an otoscope , the skin of the canal appears red and swollen and may be littered with pus and debris. An infection caused by a fungus is also diagnosed based on examination or culture . Sometimes fungal spores can be seen in the ear canal.
Can I Prevent External Otitis
You may be able to prevent external otitis by using acid alcohol drops after youve finished swimming for the day. Its also a good idea to dry your ears thoroughly with a clean towel after swimming, bathing, or showering.
Keep all objects out of your ear canals including cotton-tipped applicators unless your doctor has told you its OK to use them.
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What Is The Difference Between Swimmers Ear And Surfers Ear
Doctor Douglas Hetzler explains the difference between Swimmers and Surfers Ear, and the common confusion between both medical terms.
Surfers ear is the bone growth that occurs in the ear canal as the typical growth to cold water. Whereas, Swimmers ear is caused from water being stuck in the ear canal which leads to bacterial infection. In more severe cases, Dr. Hetzler explains that some people can even get an overlap of both Swimmers/Surfers ear at the same time. Dr. Hetzler also touches on a phenomenon where people that are in warmer waters, or on vacation, tend to spend more time in the water, thus leading to a greater risk of being infected with Swimmers ear.
Complications Of Swimmer’s Ear
- Chronic otitis externa – infection persists, or else keeps recurring.
- Narrowing of the ear canal – repeated infections can cause the ear canal to be narrowed by scar tissue. The risk of swimmer’s ear is increased if water can’t drain out properly. Narrow ear canals may also affect hearing.
- Facial infection – the infection may escape the ear canal, down small holes in the surrounding cartilage, and lead to painful facial swelling.
- Malignant otitis externa – the infection may spread to the bones and cartilage of the skull.
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Swimmers Ear Brings Summertime Pain And Discomfort
Its the perfect time of the year to go swimming in your backyard pool, neighborhood lake or local beachfront, but an easily avoidable foe is always lurking around the corner and ready to inflict some pain swimmers ear.
Swimmers ear, medically referred to as acute otitis externa, is an infection of the ear canal the passage carrying sound from outside of the body to the eardrum. Swimmers ear is primarily brought on by bacterial infection, most commonly from pathogens like Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus.
Your Ear’s Natural Defenses
Your outer ear canals have natural defenses that help keep them clean and prevent infection. Protective features include:
- A thin, water-repellent, slightly acidic film lines the ear canal and discourages bacterial growth. Earwax is an accumulation of this waxy film, dead skin cells and other debris that travels to the opening of the ear canal to keep it clean.
- The outer ear, particularly around the opening of the ear canal, helps prevent foreign bodies from entering.
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What To Do About Earwax
Earwax usually moves to the opening of the ear canal, where you can gently wash it away with a damp cloth. Its best to leave it alone and let earwax do its job.
If you have an excess of earwax or its blocking your ear canal, you can do two things rather than digging it out. See your doctor or use an at-home cleaning method. Follow these steps for safe at-home cleaning:
- Soften the wax. Use an eyedropper to apply a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil, glycerin or diluted hydrogen peroxide in your ear canal.
- Use warm water. After a day or two, when the wax is softened, use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently squirt warm water into your ear canal. Tilt your head and pull your outer ear up and back to straighten your ear canal. When finished irrigating, tip your head to the side to let the water drain out.
- Dry your ear canal. When finished, gently dry your outer ear with a towel or blow-dryer.
What Otc Medications Help Ear Pain
- OTC pain medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen , or acetaminophen may be used for pain relief of swimmer’s ear.
- Nonprescription ear drops are not usually strong enough treatment to cure swimmer’s ear. Such drops are useful only for prevention of episodes after water exposure. Ear drops used for treatment swimmer’s ear must be obtained with a prescription from a doctor.
- Do not try and treat the ear infection with drops purchased over-the-counter. This can make the affected ear worse and prolong recovery. Consult your health-care professional before using any ear drops for swimmer’s ear.
- Obtain sample of any drainage and culture it
- Avoid factors that may promote inflammation or infection
If there is a large amount of drainage or debris in the ear, the doctor will clean out the ear canal before medicine is placed in the ear.
- The ear canal may be cleaned out using a wire or plastic loop instrument or under direct vision using a suction device.
- After cleaning the ear, the doctor may place a foam wick in the canal. This allows antibiotic or antifungal ear drops or both to be placed onto the wick. The wick swells up inside the ear canal, thus holding the medicine in place against the lining of the skin.
- Oral pain medicines may be prescribed if OTC medicines are not strong enough. Oral antibiotics are not often prescribed unless the infection is severe .
Topical remedies or swimmer’s eardrops are generally directed toward treatment of inflammation and infection.
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Is Swimmers Ear The Same As An Ear Infection
There are various forms of ear infections, swimmers ear being one of them. Usually, swimmers ear refers to a bacterial infection, but in some cases, it could also indicate pain or inflammation in the ears. So, while all ear infections may not be swimmers ear, swimmer’s ear falls under the umbrella of ear infection.
What Can I Do To Prevent Swimmer’s Ear
To help prevent swimmer’s ear, try the following:
- Keep your ears as dry as possible.
- Use ear plugs when you are swimming or showering.
- Dont scratch or clean your ear canal with cotton swabs, your fingers, or other objects.
To dry your ears well after swimming or showering, try these tips:
- Tilt your head to each side to help drain water out of your ears.
- With your ear facing down, pull your earlobe in different directions. This will help drain water out.
- Gently dry your ears with the edge of a towel.
- Use a hair dryer on the lowest or coolest setting to gently dry your ears. Hold the dryer at least 12 inches from your head. Wave the dryer slowly back and forth. Don’t hold it still.
Your health care provider may recommend drops to help dry your ears.
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How Is Swimmers Ear Treated
Treatment will depend on the severity of infection and magnitude of the pain. In some cases, it can be treated at home. If the ear canal is obstructed by earwax or debris, it must be carefully removed by a health professional. Depending on irritation, this process will typically require gentle suctioning under direct visualization with an otoscope, or under a microscope.
For those seeking treatment outside of home, topical antibiotic ear drops are more effective than oral antibiotics in most cases. Ear drops contain antibiotics to fight the infection, and some are mixed with a steroid to reduce swelling of the ear canal. Ear drops are usually given twice a day for seven to 10 days.
Over-the-counter pain relievers can usually manage ear pain, but a prescription pain medication might be needed if the pain is severe. Once treatment begins, your child will start to feel better in a day or two. Swimmers ear is typically cured within seven to 10 days. Its critical to keep water out of the ear during treatment to help clear the infection.