Swimmer’s Ear – Facts You Need to Know

Make it a priority to see a professional the moment you begin to experience swimmer’s ear symptoms.

Also known as acute otitis externa, swimmer’s ear is a painful condition which increases during the summer months because kids spend a lot of their time in the pool. It is important to know that this is an outer ear infection that mainly affects children. It is paramount to identify the difference between inner ear and outer ear infections. Outer ear infection mainly affects those who swim often; occurring mostly a few days after swimming in a pool.  Because this infection involves the outer ear, one may get it after showering, bathing or even living/visiting a moist environment.

NOTE: Swimming is not the only thing that can cause this infection. Swimmer’s ear is caused by trapped water in the ear canal. When this happens, bacteria begin to multiply within the ear, which causes the infection and irritation.

What Is Swimmer’s Ear?

A person will experience irritation, pain and feel uncomfortable. The symptoms will begin after water gets trapped in the ear, causing bacteria to increase as well as fungi growth. Because the infection mainly affects swimmers, its name was derived from this.

This condition mainly affects teenagers and kids and can also affect those with excess earwax or eczema; which is a disease that makes the skin itch.

As soon as swimmer’s ear symptoms and signs are experienced, visit Dr. Nadim Bikhazi immediately. The doctor will be able to prescribe medication or provide procedures that will reduce pain as well as reduce any long-term symptoms that may affect a patient’s hearing or the spread of the infection and bacteria.

Other factors that may contribute to acute otitis externa are:

  • Excessive cleaning of the ear canal using cotton swabs or anything else
  • Coming into contact with excessive bacteria that may be present in polluted water or hot tubs
  • Several chemicals such as hair dye or hair sprays (one can avoid this from happening by placing cotton balls in the ears when using such products).
  • An ear canal skin cut
  • Exostoses or bony overgrowths in the ear canal
  • A very narrow or hairy ear canal
  • Hearing aids or headphones/earphones that are inserted into the ear
  • Sweating
  • Damaged ear canal skin when trying to remove excessive wax
  • Skin conditions such as seborrhea or eczema

The Signs and Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear

The good thing about the infection is that its signs and symptoms are obvious.

They are:

  • Pain: pain is the first symptom, which is going to be intense when the ear is touched. A professional will test this by tugging on the tragus; the little tag sticking out in front of the ear opening.
  • Itching: a person will begin to feel irritation inside the ear, and then itching will start. The itch may seem uncontrollable, it is advisable to avoid sticking anything the ear to attempt to alleviate the itching.
  • Watery discharge: the ear may ooze a watery substance. In most cases, it will be watery or a yellowish color. However, pus is present, then seek medical attention immediately. At times, the watery substance could be smelly.
  • Hearing Distortion: one could experience muffled hearing because the inflammation caused by the infection could actually cause a blockage in the ear canal.

How To Prevent Acute Otitis Externa

There are several ways one could follow to prevent swimmer’s ear. Some of these techniques are:

  • Make sure ears are dry by making sure water is drained from the ear by tilting the head on both sides after any water activity such as showering, taking a bath or swimming.
  • Use over the counter ear drops that contain acetic acid or alcohol. These ear drops will help prevent infections from occurring.
  • Avoid putting objects in the ear trying to clean them; including cotton-tipped swabs

Swimmer’s Ear Treatments

Because otitis externa is an infection that is located in a delicate and tender part of the ear, it is advisable to have a doctor treat it. However, before seeing the doctor, you could consider placing a warm or heating pad against the infected ear and use over the counter ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve the pain until you see the doctor.

Dr. Nadim Bikhazi is a Utah ENT Specialist serving the Salt Lake and Weber metro areas.