Beware of Swimmer’s Ear

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Swimming, surfing, diving and other water-related recreational activities are some ways to spend a wonderful vacation, right? These are just some of the excellent ways to get physical activity while promoting a healthy lifestyle–it’s like hitting two birds with one stone! With our country being surrounded by lots of available place for swimming (ocean, lakes, rivers, spas, and of course swimming pools), we are used to/ we love to spend holidays that include swimming as recreational time. But wait! Have you ever heard of Swimmer’s ear?

Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa is an infection of the ear canal. It is quite different from a regular ear infection because usually, when children suffer from ear infection, its usually an otitis media (middle-ear infection). It is more common among teenagers and young adults.

Swimmer’s ear occurs when one goes swimming in polluted water where water-loving Pseudomonas bacteria and fungi reside and the bacteria grows on the ear canal–(a passageway to the eardrum)– when water stays in the ear canal. When the water gets trapped in the ear canal, the bacteria that normally inhabit the canal multiply. This trapped water condition further promotes the growth of the bacteria, resulting to inflammation and swelling in the ear canal. Swimmer’s ear may be classified as acute or chronic.

One might think that swimming is the only cause of swimmer’s ear, hence the name, but no, actually there are other causes: using earplugs and hearing aids that are not cleaned properly puts you to a higher risk of acquiring this; excessive cleaning of the ears using cotton swab or anything else, injuring/scratching the ear canmal while cleaning it; chronic swimmer’s ear may be caused by chronic skin conditions like psoriasis, scalp dermatitis, allergies and/or eczema.

Symptoms include redness and swelling around the affected ear; itching inside the ear accompanied with pain when the auricle (outer ear) is touched; decreased hearing because of the feeling that the ear is blocked; yellow/pus like foul smelling drainage from the ear and sometimes, fever. If you experience or develop any of these symptoms several days after a swim, you better seek the help of a medical professional to help it get treated as early as possible. Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and may also take a sample of the discharge in the ear to test for the presence of bacteria or fungus.

People with acute swimmer’s ear is usually treated for 10-14 days with antibiotics (non-oto toxic). For infection limited to the ear canal, topical antibiotics are used while oral antibiotics may also be prescribed for infection that goes beyond the skin of the ear canal. Pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen are prescribed for pain. Corticosteroids can also be prescribed to reduce inflammation and itching. People however, with chronic swimmer’s ear may need repeated treatments to prevent complications.

But all of this trouble can be prevented with these simple precautions:

  • If possible, avoid swimming in polluted water.
  • When swimming, you can use earplugs to protect your ears.
  • Moisture in the ear promotes bacterial growth so it is important to keep the ears free of moisture during swimming.
  • You can have your ears periodically cleaned by an otolaryngologist for your safety.
  • Some say that mixing 1 drop of alcohol with 1 drop of white vinegar and placing the mixture into the ears after they get wet helps prevent bacterial growth.

So there, I hope you learned a little something from this! Safe swimming everyone! 

© 2013, Filipino Nurses. All rights reserved. DISCLAIMER: The accuracy of all articles contained in this website are the responsibility of their respective authors. All articles are for informational purposes only and are NOT intended to replace the advice of a doctor. The owner of this site disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on these information. If you have any health-related questions, please consult your physician. If you feel ill, please seek medical attention immediately.

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