Kids are itching to get that last minute dip in the lake or trip to the public pool before the school bell rings. But if they’re not careful, they could soon be itching for weeks afterward due to a painful condition called swimmer’s ear.
What Is Swimmer’s Ear?
Otitis externa, commonly known as swimmer’s ear, is simply a skin infection inside the ear canal. You do not have to be a swimmer to contract the condition, but it is common in people who spend a lot of time in water. Cases of swimmer’s ear peak in the summer months due to increased humidity and greater use of pools, rivers, and ponds.
Cases of swimmer’s ear can vary depending on the following factors:
- Causes. The infection starts when bacteria enter the ear. All water contains bacteria, but contamination levels are significantly higher in untreated water sources, such as oceans, ponds, lakes, and rivers. As beachgoers cool off in the water, bacteria may travel into their ears on the waves and become trapped in the ear canal. If the water isn’t drained from the ears after swimming, it will begin to grow in the moist environment of the middle ear, resulting in an infection.
- Patients. Children are most likely to develop swimmer’s ear, but they are by no means the only people at risk. People who have very narrow ear canals or use cotton swabs in their ears are more susceptible to infection, while those who have eczema or psoriasis or routinely touch their ears are more likely to spread the bacteria.
- Symptoms. Hearing loss is a common side effect of swimmer’s ear. The ear may feel clogged as fluid builds up and the tissues swell, sounds become muffled or may even be blocked altogether. If not treated quickly, the patient will soon experience severe pain due to pressure in the ear canal, and some patients will hear a ringing in the blocked ear (tinnitus).
Treatment for swimmer’s ear is usually a combination of antibiotics taken by mouth or as drops into the ear. It can take up to two weeks for the infection to clear up; however, the pain should start to abate in a few days after treatment. In order to prevent the infection from returning, many hearing care professionals recommend staying out of the water for at least two weeks, including plugging the ears with cotton or earplugs while showering. If treated successfully, the hearing loss suffered due to swimmer’s ear should be temporary.
What Are the Best Ways to Protect Against Swimmer’s Ear?
Most people who have experienced the pain of swimmer’s ear are not keen to repeat it. Fortunately, the condition is fairly easy to prevent with a few simple precautions:
- Wear fitted earplugs or a swim cap when swimming, especially in untreated waters.
- When you are done swimming, tilt your head to each side to drain the excess water.
- Dry your ears thoroughly with a towel or hair dryer or use ear-water drying aid drops after swimming.
- Avoid using cotton swabs or inserting small objects into your ears.
- Check the bacterial count of the water before swimming. If a public beach has a sign warning against high bacterial counts (or otherwise indicates no swimming), stay out of the water.
If you or someone you love has contracted swimmer’s ear, you should see a hearing care professional as soon as possible. The sooner you begin treatment, the sooner your pain will subside and you can get back on the beach for some more fun in the sun. Call us today at 888-262-2613 to set up an appointment today!