Acute external otitis – more commonly called swimmer’s ear – is an infection that strikes the outer ear canal, the area outside the eardrum. The infection is known as swimmer’s ear because it commonly occurs as the result of liquid remaining in the ears after swimmingwhich creates a moist environment that encourages bacterial growth. It can also be caused by stiking your fingertips, Q-tips, or other objects into the ears, because they can scratch or damage the delicate skin lining the ear canal, making it prone to infection. Luckily for us swimmer’s ear is readily treated. If left untreated, swimmer’s ear may cause severe complications therefore it is essential to identify the signs and symptoms of the infection.
If the ear’s natural defenses are overloaded, the result may be swimmer’s ear. Bacteria establish themselves and begin to multiply in the ears for numerous reasons including excessive moisture or scratches to the ear canal lining. The activities that raise your likelihood of developing swimmer’s ear include swimming (naturally, especially in untreated water such as lakes), aggressive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs, use of in-ear devices such as “ear buds” or hearing aids, and allergies.
The most common symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itching in the ear canal, mild discomfort that is made worse by tugging on your ear, a mild redness inside the ear, and minor drainage of a clear, odorless fluid. In more moderate cases of infection, these problems may develop into more intense itching, pain, and discharge of pus. Extreme cases of swimmer’s ear are accompanied by symptoms such as fever, severe pain which may radiate into other parts of the head, neck and face, swelling redness of the outer ear or lymph nodes, and possibly blockage of the ear canal. If untreated, complications from swimmer’s ear can be extremely serious. Complications may include short-term hearing loss, long-term ear infections, deep tissue infections which may spread to other parts of the body, and bone or cartilage loss. That is why, if you have experienced any of these signs or symptoms, even if minor, see your health care provider.
Swimmer’s ear can be diagnosed in an office visit after a visual examination performed with a lighted viewing instrument called an otoscope. Doctors will also check that your eardrum has not been damaged or ruptured. If you definitely have swimmer’s ear, the conventional treatment includes carefully cleaning the ears and using prescription eardrops to combat the bacteria. If the infection is serious, your physician may also prescribe oral antibiotics to help combat it.
To protect yourself from swimmer’s ear, dry your ears thoroughly after showering or swimming, avoid swimming in untreated water resources, and do not place foreign objects into your ears to clean them.