It’s technically referred to as acute external otitis or otitis externa, but most of us know it as Swimmer’s ear, an infection of the outer ear canal. The infection is called swimmer’s ear because it frequently develops due to water remaining in the ears after swimming. This damp environment can promote microbial growth.
Swimmer’s ear may also be caused by inserting your fingertips, Q-tips, or other objects into the ear. These items can abrade or damage the delicate ear canal lining, leaving it vulnerable to infections. It’s important to be familiar with the symptoms of swimmer’s ear, as it can lead to severe complications if left untreated.
Swimmer’s ear occurs because the ear’s natural defenses (glands that secrete cerumen, a water-repellant, waxy film) get overloaded. Bacteria can get established in the ears for a variety of different reasons like extra moisture or scratches to the lining of the ear canal. Activities that increase the odds of developing swimmer’s ear include swimming, especially in untreated water such as lakes or ponds, excessive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs or other objects, use of ear buds or hearing aids, and some allergies.
Signs of mild swimmer’s ear include itching in the ear, slight pain or discomfort made worse by tugging on the ear, redness, and a colorless liquid draining from the ear. Moderate symptoms include increased itching and pain and discharge of pus-like fluids. Extreme cases of swimmer’s ear are accompanied by symptoms such as fever, severe pain which may radiate into other parts of the head, neck and face, swelling redness of the outer ear or lymph nodes, and possibly blockage of the ear canal. Side effects of untreated swimmer’s ear can be serious, including short-term hearing loss, bone and cartilage loss, long-term ear infections, and the spread of deep-tissue infections to other areas of the body. If you experience even the milder indicators of swimmer’s ear, it is a good idea to see Dr. Dena right away.
During your appointment, the doctor will look for indications of swimmer’s ear with an otoscope, which allows her to look deep into your ear. The doctor will also check at the same time to see if there is any damage to the eardrum itself.
Remember these 4 tips to avoid swimmer’s ear:
• Dry your ears thoroughly after bathing or swimming.
• Avoid swimming in open, untreated bodies of water.
• Don’t insert any foreign objects in your ears in an attempt to clean them.
• Contact Dr. Dena if you believe you are experiencing symptoms of swimmer’s ear.