Swimmer’s ear is a painful ear infection that should be treated by a doctor as soon as it is suspected.
What is Swimmer’s Ear?
Swimmer’s ear, also known by its medical name otitis externa, is an infection of the outer ear canal. It is called swimmer’s ear because one of the most common causes for the condition is getting water in the ear. This moisture becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and contributes to the development of an infection.
However, swimmer’s ear is not always caused by water in the ear. Irritating the skin of the outer ear canal can also cause swimmer’s ear. These little cuts and abrasions can become an opportune spot for bacteria or fungus to cause an infection.
The irritation is typically done by inserting a foreign object into the ear canal. Excessive cleaning or irritation from wearing a hearing aid or earbuds may also contribute.
People with dry skin or eczema may get swimmer’s ear.
Chemical irritants entering the ear canal can also contribute to the development of swimmer’s ear. Hair products such as hairspray or hair dyes are typical culprits.
Swimming in dirty or polluted water increases your risk compared to clean water that has been properly chemically treated.
What Are the Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear?
Swimmer’s ear has several symptoms, but the most predominant one is pain in the affected ear. This pain can progressively get worse as the infection takes further hold inside the ear canal.
You may also experience an itching sensation inside the ear, especially before the pain becomes severe.
Fluid drainage out of the ear may occur. It may be a clear liquid, but sometimes pus may drain out of the ear canal.
The affected ear will feel as if it is “full” or clogged. You may have increased difficulty hearing with the affected ear.
You may have redness and swelling around the ear canal, which in severe cases may radiate out to the whole ear.
In severe cases of swimmer’s ear, you may develop a fever. You may also develop swollen lymph nodes around the affected ear and in the neck.
According to MayoClinic, it is possible for swimmer’s ear infections to become so severe that they start spreading to other parts of the body. Seeing a doctor to keep the infection under control is extremely important.
How is Swimmer’s Ear Treated?
Your doctor will examine your ear and ask you questions about your symptoms, whether you have been swimming recently, and whether you have used or inserted items into your ear.
The physician will likely try to clean out the ear in order to inspect the eardrum. If it is damaged, you may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
Your doctor will prescribe swimmer’s ear drops for you. These drops will be designed to help fight off the infection and reduce inflammation in the ear. If the infection is severe then you may be given oral antibiotics instead.
Your doctor will recommend taking over the counter pain medication, or, in a severe infection, they may instead give you a prescription for stronger pain medicine.
Home Remedies for the Ear Infection
You will need to continuously use the ear drops given to you as instructed.
You should prevent water from entering the affected ear. Do not swim. When showering, insert a cotton ball into the affected ear to prevent water from splashing into the ear canal.
Do not wear earplugs, hearing aids, or ear bud headphones while recovering.
You can use a warm washcloth to help alleviate the pain. This may help draw out some of the fluid within the infected ear, or melt earwax, allowing it to drain.
If your doctor didn’t give you prescription pain pills, then you can use over the counter ones. The best pain medications to use for swimmer’s ear are the ones with anti-inflammatory properties. Ibuprofen and aspirin are examples. Unfortunately, acetaminophen does not help with inflammation, but it will at least help with the pain.
A prevention strategy can be used by mixing simple household items. Mix a small but equal portions of rubbing alcohol and white vinegar together. Pour one teaspoon into the ear canal. Massage the ear around so that the mixture coats the entire ear canal, and then allow the mixture to drain out. Repeat for the second ear.
There are also over the counter ear drops that can be bought at your local pharmacy that help prevent swimmer’s ear. One example is Swim-Ear.
Another home prevention strategy is to use a blow dryer on an ear at its lowest setting. This can be done after swimming or showering to dry out the ear canal.
Keep in mind that traveling by plane while suffering from swimmer’s ear or any other ear infection can greatly increase the pain.