Swimmer’s ear or otitis externa is a form of infection involving the outer ear. It is usually brought about by entry of contaminated water in the ear which can occur while swimming or simply getting water in the ear while showering or bathing.
The infection is likely to develop if the water remains within the ear for an extended span of time since this provides a moist environment for bacteria or fungi to thrive.
Swimmer’s ear can affect individuals of all ages but prevalent among children and adolescents. It can also occur frequently among individuals who have underlying ailments such as eczema or excessive ear wax. Additionally, the shape of the ear in some individuals makes it more likely for water to end up trapped inside.
What are the signs?
The usual signs of swimmer’s ear include the following:
- Ear pain
- Itchy ears
- Dry, flaking skin around the outer ear
- Reddened or irritated ears
- Hearing loss
- Ear drainage that can be whitish, clear or has a foul odor
- Ruptured eardrum in some cases
What are the risk factors?
Some risk factors can increase the likelihood for developing swimmer’s ear. Some of these include:
- Unnecessary cleaning or removal of ear wax
- Scratching the ear which increases the risk for skin damage
- Insertion of foreign objects into the ear
- Swimming in contaminated water such as lakes or rivers as well as in commercial hot tubs and swimming pools
Management of swimmer’s ear
A doctor must be consulted if an individual shows signs of swimmer’s ear. In most cases, antibiotics might be prescribed to manage the infection. If left untreated, the infection can result to significant swelling that can block access to the ear canal.
Once this occurs, the doctor will insert a wick into the ear to allow the administration of antibiotic ear drops.
Some of the tips in preventing swimmer’s ear include:
- Gently blow dry the ears using the cool setting after bathing or swimming
- Apply a drop of olive oil or baby oil in each ear daily. This is done if the individual did not have any surgery or a ruptured eardrum.
- Utilize ear plugs while swimming or bathing
- The head must be tipped from side to side to allow any leftover water to drain out after swimming or bathing
- A drop of alcohol can be administered in each ear after swimming or bathing