When water becomes trapped in the ear, bacteria can cause inflammation and infection of the ear canal. This painful affliction is known as swimmer’s ear and can occur following exposure to any moist environment. It is most common in children and teenagers, individuals with eczema and diabetes, and anybody with excess earwax.
What Causes Swimmer’s Ear?
Anybody who comes into frequent contact with water could develop swimmer’s ear (also known as external otitis). Activities such as swimming, surfing, diving and bathing are the most common causes. Water entering the ear canal can become trapped, especially when earwax is present.
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. We can recommend or custom fit you for earplugs specially designed for swimmers that will keep water out. Also, wearing a shower cap when bathing, and always drying your ears thoroughly after swimming and bathing will help. Rather than placing swabs in your ears, try passing a blow dryer on low setting back and forth past your ears from about 12 inches away.
If you do develop swimmer’s ear symptoms that persists despite home remedies such as warm compress and over-the-counter pain medication to treat discomfort, your condition may be the result of a bacterial infection. Call us, we can gently remove debris to clean the ear canal and prescribe antibiotic drops for treatment, if needed.
Call DeFatta ENT & Allergy at (715) 828-2368 for more information or to schedule an appointment.