Swimmer’s ear is an infection that can be caused by excess moisture in the outer ear canal. This infection often occurs after swimming, which creates a moist environment where bacteria can grow and cause swimmer’s ear.
Putting your fingers, cotton swabs or other objects in your ears can lead to swimmer’s ear because you are damaging the thin layer of skin lining your ear canal.
Swimmer’s ear is also referred to as otitis externa. The most common cause of this infection is bacteria penetrating the skin inside your ear canal. Usually you can treat a swimmer’s ear with ear drops. Prompt treatment can help prevent complications and more-serious infections such as middle and inner ear infections, meningitis, or even brain abscesses if left untreated for weeks or months.
Swimmer’s ear is a common infection that causes an inflammation in the outer ear canal. It often begins with mild symptoms, but can worsen if left untreated. A doctor will usually classify swimmer’s ear according to three stages of progression: mild, moderate and advanced.
• Itching in the ear canal
• Slight redness inside the ear
• Mild discomfort that’s made worse by pulling on your outer ear (pinna or auricle) or pushing on the little “bump” in front of your ear (tragus)
• Some drainage of clear, odorless fluid
• More-intense itching in the ears
• Increasing pain in the ears
• More-extensive redness in the ear
• Excessive fluid drainage
• Feeling of fullness inside your ear
• Partial blockage of your ear canal by swelling, fluid and debris
• Decreased or muffled hearing
• Severe pain that might radiate to your face, neck or side of the head
• Complete blockage of ear canal
• Redness or swelling of outer ear
• Swelling in the lymph nodes or neck area
• High temperature
Symptoms of mild swimmer’s ear may just be easily categorized as annoying. However, when you get a fever or are experiencing pain in the ears that’s hard to ignore, it’s a sign that you need to get medical help right away.
Swimmer’s ear is caused by bacteria and rarely by a fungus or virus. It is most often found in the outer ear canal, where it might be difficult to detect if not properly cleaned because of its location on the body.
Swimmer’s ear, as its name suggests, can occur when water gets trapped in the ears after swimming for extended periods of time. This leads to an infection that can cause pain and discharge from your inner ears. Most people will experience this at one point or another during their lives, but it doesn’t always have to happen. By keeping your ears clean both before and after you enter any body of water, you could avoid swimmer’s ear altogether.
Your outer ear canals have natural defenses that help keep them clean and prevent infection. Protective features include glands that secrete a waxy substance (cerumen) and cartilage that partly covers the ear canal.
Cerumen – Cerumen is a natural defense mechanism that you can’t see, but it’s there. It forms a thin, water-repellent film on the skin inside your ear and provides some protection against bacteria or other foreign bodies. Cerumen also collects dirt and debris from your ears so that these particles are not left to accumulate in one place.
Cartilage that partly covers the ear canal – Anatomically speaking, this cartilage protects the ear canal from foreign bodies.
If you have swimmer’s ear, the natural defenses around and in your ear have been affected. Below are some of the conditions that are known to weaken your ear’s defenses, promoting bacterial growth inside:
Excess ear moisture – If you’re not careful, a single swim in the pool can have severe consequences. Swimming pools are breeding grounds for bacteria and other nasty organisms that invade your ear canal and cause all sorts of health problems like ringing in the ears or even hearing loss!
If you’re looking to avoid any nasty side effects from swimming, it’s best to keep out water by drying off thoroughly after taking a dip. If there’s moisture left over from being submerged in the pool, don’t forget to dry it out because this is when germs will start multiplying.
Heavy perspiration caused by prolonged humid weather or excessive physical activity also creates favorable conditions for bacteria growth.
Scratches or abrasions in your ear canal – Cleaning your ear with a cotton swab or hairpin, scratching inside your ear with a finger, or wearing earbuds or hearing aids can cause small breaks in the skin that allow bacteria to grow. The consequences of this action may be temporary discomfort and itchiness but can also lead to serious and lasting damage like infections.
Scratching inside your earlobe, using cotton balls dipped in alcohol, even wearing headphones all have risks associated with them such as bacterial growth, which could lead to swimmer’s ear.
When treated promptly, swimmer’s ear doesn’t cause damaging effects. However, if left untreated or allowed to be dragged on for a long time, complications may occur. The key to handling swimmer’s ear is to address it on its early stages. Remember that we are dealing with bacteria here and they can really multiply fast.
Below are some swimmer’s ear complications:
Temporary hearing loss – you might experience muffled hearing when you have swimmer’s ear. In most cases, hearing usually gets better after the infection clears.
Long-term infection (chronic otitis externa) – When an outer ear infection persists for more than three months, it is considered chronic. This condition is more common if the person has a rare bacterial strain or skin conditions that make treatment difficult such as dermatitis and psoriasis.
Deep tissue infection (cellulitis) – In rare cases, swimmer’s ear can actually spread into the connective tissues and deep layers of the skin.
Bone and cartilage damage (early skull base osteomyelitis) – When swimmer’s ear goes untreated, the pain can be so severe that it is debilitating. This complication occurs when the infection spreads to the cartilage of the outer ear and bones in the lower part of your skull. Older adults, those with diabetes or weakened immune systems are at increased risk for this complication.
Widespread infection – With the exception of a few rare cases, swimmer’s ear is rarely life-threatening. Even so, if it progresses into advanced skull base osteomyelitis, this can be very dangerous and even fatal.
Keep your ears dry – It’s important to dry your ears after swimming or bathing so that they don’t get infected. To do this, tip your head to the side and use a soft cloth to gently rub the outside of your ear canal. You can also help water drain out by tilting your head back and blowing on it with a blow dryer set on low heat.
Avoid putting foreign objects in your ear – Don’t try to scratch that itch or dig out your earwax with cotton swabs, paper clips, or hairpins. They can only make things worse by stuffing the material deeper into your ear canal or irritating the thin skin inside of it.
Deal with swimmer’s ear as soon as you notice any signs or symptoms that you have it. Ontario Hearing Center, Rochester NY offers treatment for swimmer’s ear on top of providing top-tiered hearing care solutions in the community. Call us today for an appointment!