Swimmer’s ear is an infection in the outer ear canal, a painful condition resulting from inflammation, irritation, or infection of the ear. It’s often brought on by water that remains in your ear after swimming. This condition commonly affects swimmers, so it is known as swimmer’s ear.
WHAT CAUSES SWIMMER’S EAR?
A common source of the infection is increased moisture trapped in the
ear canal, from baths, showers, swimming, or moist environments.
When water is trapped in the ear canal, bacteria that normally inhabit the skin
and ear canal multiply, causing infection of the ear canal.
Other factors that may contribute to swimmer’s ear include:
l Excessive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs or anything else
l Damage to the skin of the ear canal following water irrigation to remove wax.
l A cut in the skin of the ear canal
l Other skin conditions affecting the ear canal, such as eczema or seborrhea
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS?
Symptoms are usually mild at first, but they may get worse if your infection isn’t treated or spreads.
The most common symptoms are itching inside the ear and pain that gets worse when you pull on the ear. Other signs and symptoms may include any of the following:
l Sensation that the ear is blocked or full
l Ear discharge
l Decreased hearing
l Intense pain that may spread to the neck, face, or side of the head
l Swollen lymph nodes around the ear or in the upper neck. Redness and swelling of the skin around the ear
COMPLICATIONS RESULTING FROM SWIMMER’S EAR:
Hearing loss. When the infection clears up, hearing usually returns to normal.
Recurring ear infections (chronic otitis externa). Without treatment, infection can continue.
Bone and cartilage damage (malignant otitis externa). Ear infections when not treated can spread to the base of your skull, brain, or cranial nerves. Diabetics and older adults are at higher risk for such dangerous complications.
HOW IS SWIMMER’S EAR TREATED?
Need to be evaluated by an ENT DOCTOR, may take a sample of any abnormal fluid or discharge in your ear to test for the presence of bacteria or fungus (ear culture).
Treatment for the early stages of swimmer’s ear includes careful cleaning of the ear canal and use of eardrops that inhibit bacterial or fungal growth and reduce inflammation.
Severe cases need systemic antibiotics and anti inflammatory with topical antibiotic, antifungal preparations and periodic ear cleaning. Diabetes or any other immune compromised conditions may need to treat as an inpatient, because of the fear of spreading the infection
to skull base.
TIPS FOR PREVENTION
l Keep your ears dry. Dry your ears thoroughly after exposure to moisture from swimming or bathing. Dry only
your outer ear, wiping it slowly and gently with a soft towel or cloth. Tip your head to the side to help water drain from your ear canal.
l Avoid putting foreign objects in your ear. Never attempt to scratch an itch or dig out earwax with items such as a cotton swab, paper clip or hairpin. Using these items can pack material deeper into your ear canal, irritate the thin skin inside your ear or break the skin.
l Protect your ears from irritants. Put cotton balls in your ears while applying products such as hair sprays and hair dyes.
l Use caution after an ear infection or surgery. If you’ve recently had an ear infection or ear surgery, talk to your doctor before you go swimming.
l Have your ears cleaned periodically by an ENT DOCTOR if you have itchy, flaky or scaly ears, or extensive earwax.
Dr. Pradeep Divakaran
Bahrain Specialist Hospital Clinics, West Riffa