What is Swimmer’s Ear?

The human ear is quite a remarkable organ – yet one of the most delicate organs in the body. We rely on our ears for hearing well as our equilibrium, and if the ear is injured or infected in any way, it can cause hearing loss and balance  issues. One of the more common problems that can occur in our ears is a condition known as swimmer’s ear. This condition got its name because it is prevalent among swimmers, however swimming is not the only cause of swimmer’s ear.

Swimmer’s ear is technically acute external otitis, or in other words, an infection of the outer ear canal. This type of infection is often caused as a result of water remaining in the ear, usually from swimming or bathing. The damp environment in the ear canal promotes bacterial growth, which left untreated can cause some serious complications, including hearing lossExcess moisture isn’t the only cause of swimmers ear however, injury to the delicate lining of the ear canal can also lead to infection.

Individuals who use cotton swabs, their fingernails or other objects to clean their ears, often scratch the delicate lining of the ear canal, leaving it vulnerable to infection. Ear buds and even hearing aids have also been known to scratch or damage the ear canal, which can lead to swimmers ear as well. Fortunately, swimmers ear is treatable, but left unchecked, can not only cause hearing loss, but chronic ear infections, deep tissue infections and even cartilage and bone loss.

The beginning symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itching in the ear canal, redness, discomfort and drainage of fluid. If the infection progress, it can cause more intense itching and pain as well as a discharge of pus, along with a fever and a muffled sound or loss of hearing. It is highly recommended to call your doctor if you are experiencing even mild signs or symptoms of swimmers ear. The earlier you get it treated, the less chance of lasting damage to the ear.

Your physician will usually prescribe ear drops to clear up the infection. In most cases, the drops will contain a combination of antibiotics, anti-fungal medication and steroids in an acidic solution that will help restore the ear’s normal antibacterial properties. If the ear canal is swollen shut, it is possible that your doctor will insert a thin roll of medicated cotton gauze until the swelling subsides. Taking over the counter pain medication during this time should also help with any pain associated with the infection.

As audiologists who prescribe hearing aids to many of our patients, we like to remind them to be very careful when inserting or removing their hearing aids. Rough handling of their aids cans cause the ear canal to get scratched, which is a perfect opportunity for infection to take hold. Other ways to prevent swimmer’s ear is to always make sure to thoroughly dry your ears after being in the water, never put a foreign object into your ears to clean them and avoid swimming in any unclean water.

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