Swimmer’s ear, technically known as acute external otitis or otitis externa, is an infection that develops in the outer ear canal (the area outside your eardrum). The common name swimmer’s ear comes from the fact that the problem is frequently linked to swimming. Anytime water collects in the outer ear it results in a moist atmosphere where bacteria may grow. This condition is also caused by scratching or damaging the sensitive skin lining the ear canal by using your fingertips, cotton swabs, or other objects in an attempt to clean them. Fortunately swimmer’s ear is easily treated. If untreated, swimmer’s ear may cause serious complications therefore it is important to identify the signs and symptoms of the condition.
If the ear’s innate protection mechanisms are overloaded, the end result may be swimmer’s ear. Moisture in the ears, sensitivity reactions, and scratches to the ear canal lining can all promote the growth of bacteria, and cause infection. Activities that increase your likelihood of developing swimmer’s ear include swimming (especially in untreated water such as lakes), overly aggressive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs, use of in-ear devices such as “ear buds” or hearing aids, and allergies.
Itching inside the ear, mild pain or discomfort that is worsened by pulling on the ear, redness and an odorless, clear fluid draining from the ear are all signs and symptoms of a mild case of swimmer’s ear. Moderate symptoms include more severe itching and pain and discharge of pus-like liquids. 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. If left untreated, complications from swimmer’s ear can be quite serious. Complications might include short-term hearing loss
, long-term ear infections, deep tissue infections which may spread to other areas of the body, and cartilage or bone loss. The potential for severe complications implies that you should visit a doctor as soon as you suspect swimmer’s ear.
Swimmer’s ear can be diagnosed in an office visit after a visual exam
. They will also check at the same time to see if there is any damage to the eardrum itself. If swimmer’s ear is the problem, it is typically treated first by cleaning the ears very carefully, and then prescribing antibiotic or antifungal eardrops to fight the infection. If the infection has become widespread or serious, the physician may also prescribe oral antibiotics.
To prevent swimmer’s ear, dry your ears thoroughly after showering or swimming, avoid swimming in untreated water resources, and do not place foreign objects into your ears to clean them.