Anyone who’s ever had swimmer’s ear knows how painful and irritating it can be. And besides the discomfort it causes, it can also be very difficult to get rid of.
But what is it exactly, and what should you do if you think you have it?
Swimmer’s ear is an infection of the outer ear caused by water getting trapped inside your ear canal. The bacteria and fungi that’s naturally present in a person’s ear, or in the water, begin to spread, resulting in inflammation and pain.
The most common symptoms of swimmer’s ear are a sensation of itching inside your ear and pain when you pull on your outer ear. Other possible symptoms include:
- A feeling of the ear being blocked or full
- Liquid or waxy drainage from the ear
- Trouble hearing
- Intense pain that spreads to the head, neck, or face
- Swollen lymph nodes around the ear or in the upper neck
- Redness and swelling around the ear
If left untreated, swimmer’s ear can result in more advanced hearing loss, recurring ear infections, and bone and cartilage damage.
The first step in treating swimmer’s ear is having it evaluated by a physician. Besides examining your ear for visible signs of infection, like redness and swelling, your doctor may also take a sample of discharge from you ear to test it for the presence of bacteria or fungi.
After determining that an infection is present, treatment for swimmer’s ear involves careful cleaning of the ear canal by your physician, and the administration of ear drops containing alcohol and other mildly acidic solutions that inhibit the growth of bacteria or fungi while drying out any remaining moisture.
It’s best that these ear drops be placed in the ear by someone other than the patient, and the patient should remain lying on one side to allow the drops to be absorbed.
If swimmer’s ear and the treatment necessary to cure it sound unpleasant, you may want to take the following steps to prevent the infection from occurring:
- Avoid getting products in your ears like hairspray and hair dye that increase your chances of getting swimmer’s ear.
- Do not clean your ears excessively; you may just be damaging the skin, or packing wax and dirt deeper into the canal.
- Use ear plugs when swimming, as well as in hot tubs where bacteria is likely to be present. Dry your ears with a towel or hair dryer after swimming.
- Periodically have your ears cleaned by an otolaryngologist – an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
To find an otolaryngologist near you, use the Vitals Doctor Finder.