As the days get hotter and the air gets dryer, nothing sounds better than a long swim in a pool or a lake. Unfortunately, for many people, swim season becomes very painful due to a condition called Swimmer’s Ear. Swimmer’s ear occurs after water gets trapped in your ear and a bacterial or fungal infection spreads, often affecting young swimmers, ruining summer vacations. Swimmer’s ear can also be caused from bathing or showering.
According to the American Academy of Otolarygnology, the most common symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itching inside the ear and pain that gets worse when you tug on the outer ear. Other signs and symptoms may include any of the following:
• Sensation that the ear is blocked or full
• Decreased hearing
• Intense pain that may spread to the neck, face, or side of the head
• Redness and swelling of the skin around the ear
To determine whether you have swimmer’s ear, a simple examination of the ear is performed.
First line treatment for swimmer’s ear includes antibiotic drops applied directly to the ear canal and keeping water out of the ear. “Unfortunately many people have wax or swelling from the infection that blocks the canal and will need to be seen by an Ear, Nose & Throat doctor (ENT), said Dr. Shepard of Southwestern Ear, Nose & Throat Associates. “If left untreated you could experience hearing loss, bone or cartilage damage, or recurrent ear infections.”
“Treatment is actually very simple,” Dr. Shepard continued. “We do a careful cleaning of your ear canal and apply antibiotic drops in your ear.” For larger infections of the ear, the doctors may also use oral antibiotics.
Prevent moisture in the ear. Cotton swabs or Q-tips should not be used for this purpose and can actually make swimmer’s ear worse. Cotton swabs pack material deeper into the ear canal and remove protective earwax, irritating the thin skin of the ear canal which creates the perfect environment for an infection.
“One safe way to dry your ears after swimming or bathing, is actually with a hair dryer,” Dr. Shepard said.
Other options are rubbing alcohol or a 50:50 mixture alcohol and vinegar used as eardrops. It is, however, important to verify that you do not have a perforated eardrum before doing these drops. Check with your otolaryngologist (ENT) if you have ever had a perforated, punctured, or injured eardrum, or if you have had ear surgery.
People with itchy ears, flaky or scaly ears, or extensive earwax are more likely to develop swimmer’s ear. If you are one of those people, it may be helpful to have your ears cleaned periodically by an otolaryngologist. And don’t forget to avoid the Q-tips!
SWENT offers custom-fit swim plugs to help prevent swimmer’s ear in the future. Just call and make an appointment and the audiology department at SWENT will take a mold of your ear. You will have a custom set of swim plugs to get you through swim season in no time.
Located in Santa Fe, Southwestern Ear, Nose & Throat Associates was founded in 1986 and has satellite locations in Los Alamos, Espanola, and Las Vegas, NM. Known for comprehensive ear, nose and throat care, SWENT features centers in audiology and hearing aids, sleep disorders, allergies, and same day surgeries – the only all-inclusive office of its kind in New Mexico.