Summer vacation is finally upon us again! For many of us, this means beaches, sunshine, swimming, and plenty of lazy days. Unfortunately, for some this will also mean earaches and the occasional ear infection.
Swimmer’s ear or otitis externa can be caused by many things, but it ultimately boils down to a breakdown in the ear canal which allows for entrance and irritation by fungi and bacteria1. Moisture in the ear from activities like swimming can cause ear breakdown, but things like eczema and placing foreign objects such as Q-Tips in the ear can also accomplish this. Draining a case of otitis media can even cause swimmer’s ear!
Now, the symptoms of swimmer’s ear do vary based on severity of the infection. Common signs and symptoms of a mild infection include itching and redness in the ear canal, odorless drainage, and mild discomfort. A severe case of swimmer’s ear, however, can present as severe pain radiating to face, neck, or side of the head; fever, swollen lymph nodes, and complete blockage of the ear canal. People experiencing these more severe symptoms are cautioned to seek emergency care as some complications develop such as necrotizing otitis externa and deep tissue cellulitis. Cellulitis and necrotizing otitis externa are dangerous because cellulitis can permanently damage the connective tissues of the skin, and necrotizing otitis externa can cause damage to nearby nerves, the brain, cartilage of the ear, and the bones of the skull2.
Don’t fret, though! There are plenty of simple ways to avoid a case of swimmer’s ear. Check out some of the tips below before you hit the pools this summer!
- Don’t over-clean your ear. Earwax is far from a pretty sight, and too much can certainly cause its own problems, but it does have its purpose. A little earwax helps to repel water and protect your ear canal from abrasions which may lead to infection.
- Do NOT use cotton swabs or Q-Tips. The package says not to do it. Healthcare providers everywhere say not to do it. Google says not to (and everyone knows that the internet doesn’t lie). Basically, just don’t do it.
- Use an OTC diluted alcohol eardrop solution after going swimming; also, try to drain any excess fluid by tilting to the affected side1.
- Earbuds and hearing aids? Yup, those should stay clean or stay clear from the ear, too. Just take a second and imagine where those earbuds have been. Now imagine them shoved in a fragile place like the ear. Clean. Clean is good.
- Be careful what jewelry is used in the ear. If there is an allergic reaction or an irritation caused by jewelry, the risk for infection increases.
So what do you do if you follow these tips, but you still develop swimmer’s ear? The treatment for a case of swimmers ear usually involves some form of suction by the doctor. Your provider will usually then prescribe eardrops which are a cocktail of acidic solution, steroids, antibiotics, and antifungals2.
So remember, when you are sitting on that beach this summer, be sure to take care of your ears. Sun and surf are both very fun, but ear infections aren’t!
Keep calm and let Otitis Externa pass along!
Cook, S. (2012, August 1). Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa). Retrieved April 27, 2015, from http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/ear/swimmer_ear.html#
Swimmer’s ear. (2013, July 9). Retrieved April 27, 2015, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/swimmers-ear/basics/treatment/con-20014723
Picture compliments of PNP.org