Pool season brings swimmer’s ear: What to do and how to prevent this summer problem
by The Press and Standard | July 27, 2019 5:00 am
Last Updated: July 24, 2019 at 9:33 am
It’s pool season! That means it’s time for fun in the sun and a review on the signs and symptoms of swimmer’s ear.
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the ear canal, the tubular opening that carries sounds from the outside of the body to the eardrum. It can be caused by different types of bacteria or fungi.
Swimmer’s ear — or otitis externa — usually develops in ears that are exposed to moisture. People who get it often have been diving or swimming a lot, which can bring the germs directly into the ear canal. Swimmer’s ear often happens during the summer months, when lots of us are enjoying water activities.
People who don’t swim can also develop it by scratching their ear canals when they try to clean their ears. This is especially true if they use cotton swabs or dangerously sharp small objects, like hair clips or bobby pins. Sometimes, in a person with a middle ear infection (otitis media), pus collected in the middle ear can drain into the ear canal through a hole in the eardrum, causing otitis externa.
The main sign is severe ear pain that gets worse when the outside part of the ear is pulled or pressed on. Sometimes there is itching in the ear canal before the pain begins. The outer ear might get red or swollen, and lymph nodes around the ear may get enlarged and tender. Sometimes, there’s a greenish-yellow discharge of pus from the ear opening. It can be hard to hear in the affected ear if pus or swelling of the canal begins to block passage of sound into the ear.
“The treatment for swimmer’s ear will depend on how severe the pain and the infection are. For most outer ear infections, ear drops containing antibiotics, possibly mixed with medicine, to help improve swelling and inflammation are used,” explains Dr. William Haynes from Colleton Family Medicine. “These will help fight the infection and ease swelling of the ear canal. Ear drops are usually given several times a day for seven to 10 days.”
You may be able to prevent swimmer’s ear by using over-the-counter acetic acid drops after you’ve finished swimming for the day. (But don’t use these drops if you have ear tubes or a hole in your eardrum.) Dry your ears well with a clean towel after swimming, bathing or showering.
Keep all objects out of your ear canals — including cotton swabs — unless your doctor has told you it’s OK to use them.