Outer ear infections—also known as swimmer’s ear or otitis externa—affect the ear canal and are usually bacterial or fungal in nature. They are most often caused by excessive water exposure, though they can also result from inserting foreign objects like cotton swabs, jewelry or chemicals into the ear canal. Swimmer’s ear requires prompt medical treatment. If you’re experiencing itching, redness, discharge or ear discomfort, please see us at Camino ENT.
What Causes Swimmer’s Ear?
Activities such as swimming, surfing, diving and bathing are the most common causes of swimmer’s ear (also known as external otitis). Water entering the ear canal can become trapped, especially when earwax is present.
Anybody who comes into frequent contact with water could develop swimmer’s ear.
Any cut in the skin of the ear canal can increase the risk, as will coming into contact with water that is polluted or contains excess bacteria. Despite the name, water exposure isn’t the only way of contracting swimmer’s ear; it can be caused by anything that damages the protective film of the ear canal, such as cotton swabs, chemicals found in hairspray or hair dyes, etc. Skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis and seborrhea may also contribute.
Itchiness and pain are usually the first symptoms to appear. There may be a feeling of fullness in the ear, followed by swelling, redness and drainage of fluids. Fever, temporary hearing loss, and swollen lymph nodes may occur. If left untreated, swimmer’s ear can lead to permanent hearing loss, chronic ear infections and damage to the cartilage and bone.
Prevention and Treatment of Swimmer’s Ear
The best way to prevent swimmer’s ear is to keep moisture from entering the ear canals.
There are earplugs specially designed for swimmers that will keep water out. Or try a solution of vinegar and rubbing alcohol applied in droplet form to your ears before any water exposure. Wear a shower cap when bathing, and always dry your ears thoroughly after swimming and bathing.
If you do develop swimmer’s ear, home remedies are often a simple and effective method of treatment. Rinse and flush your ears with a saline solution or mixture of vinegar and warm water, and use a warm compress and over-the-counter pain medication to treat discomfort. If your condition is the result of a bacterial infection, you will be prescribed antibiotics.
Call Camino Ear, Nose & Throat Clinic at (408) 227-6300 for more information or to schedule an appointment.