What is Swimmer's Ear?

Otitis externa is another name for a swimmer's ear. It's usually triggered by water that lingers in the ear, which promotes the growth of germs by producing a moist environment. By harming the delicate layer of skin lining your ear canal, sticking your fingers, cotton swabs, or other things in your ears can also result in a swimmer's ear. A kid's usual ear infection after a cold differs from a swimmer's ear. The swimmer's ear is typically treatable with eardrops, and early care can help avoid complications and more severe infections.


Symptoms

Early swimmer's ear symptoms are often mild, but if the infection is left untreated, it can spread, & might get worse. The progression of a swimmer's ear is sometimes classified into mild, moderate, and advanced phases.

Mild signs and symptoms
  • Itching in your ear canal
  • Slight redness inside your ear
  • Some drainage of clear, odorless fluid
Moderate progression
  • More intense itching
  • Increasing pain
  • Feeling of fullness inside your ear and partial blockage of your ear canal by swelling, fluid, and debris
  • More extensive redness in your ear
  • Excessive fluid drainage
  • Decreased or muffled hearing
Advanced progression
  • Severe pain that might radiate to your face, neck, or side of your head
  • Complete blockage of your ear canal
  • Redness or swelling of your outer ear
  • Swelling in the lymph nodes in your neck
  • Fever

When To See a Doctor?

One can get a swimmer's ear treated. If you have any of these symptoms, make an appointment with a doctor to find the source of the issue and get the proper treatment. A doctor may recommend painkillers, give infection-fighting ear drops, and use ear drops to clean the ear. It's essential to stop the swimmer's ear development. one can experience temporary hearing loss, extensive infection, and tissue and cartilage damage if ignored.


Causes

Children who spend much time in the water frequently get swimmer's ear, also known as otitis externa. The skin in the ear canal might get irritated by too much moisture, which opens the door for bacteria or fungus to enter. The season that occurs most frequently is summer, when swimming is popular.

Otitis externa risk factors include

  • Dry skin or dermatitis
  • Scratching the ear canal.
  • Cleaning the ear with cotton swabs.
  • Inserting objects like bobby pins or paper clips.

Additionally, a hole in the eardrum allows pus accumulated in the middle ear to leak into the ear canal and create a middle ear infection.


Risk factors

The risk factors include:

  • Water : Bacteria can enter the ear canal through water, especially dirty water. Dermatitis can also develop in a moist ear canal, and small fissures or fractures in the skin can let germs in.
  • Mechanical damage : Cleaning the ears with fingernails, cotton buds, or other things risks infecting the delicate ear canal tissues by slicing them.
  • Chemical irritation : Hairspray, shampoo, and hair colors can enter the ear canal and irritate the tissues, causing chemical irritation.
  • Middle ear infection (otitis media) : Otitis media, or middle ear infection, is a condition that can lead to ear canal infection or inflammation.
  • Diabetes : Diabetes : This disease can cause earwax to become too alkaline, which favors the growth of pathogenic organisms.
  • Folliculitis : An infection may result from a hair follicle infection in the ear canal known as folliculitis.
  • Narrow ear canals : Because of this, some people's ear canals don't drain water as well as they should.

Complications

Many issues may arise if an outer ear infection is left untreated and does not resolve on its own.

Around the damaged part of the ear, abscesses can form. These may go away on their own, or your doctor may need to drain them.

The ear canal may narrow as a result of ongoing outer ear infections. In difficult situations, the narrowing might result in hearing loss, and antibiotics are needed to treat it.

Another consequence of outer ear infection caused by objects pushed into the ear is ruptured or perforated eardrums, which may cause excruciating discomfort. A momentary loss of hearing, ringing or buzzing in the ears, discharge, and bleeding from the ear are all symptoms.

Necrotizing (malignant) otitis externa is a rare occurrence. This severe consequence causes the infection to spread to the bone and cartilage surrounding your ear canal.

Adults who are at risk are those with compromised immune systems. It can be lethal if untreated. These symptoms, which are considered medical emergencies, including

Prevention

Follow these tips to avoid swimmer's ear:

  • Keep your ears dry : Tilt your head to the side after bathing or swimming to allow water to leave the ear canal. Wipe the outer ear gently with a soft cloth to dry it.
  • At-home preventive treatment : Use homemade preventative eardrops comprised of one part white vinegar and one part rubbing alcohol if you are sure your eardrum is not damaged. This treatment promotes drying and helps prevent germs and fungus growth. Pour one teaspoon of the solution into each ear before and after swimming, then let it drain out again. There may be similar over-the-counter remedies at your local pharmacy.
  • Swim wisely : Don't swim in lakes or rivers on days when warnings of high bacteria counts are posted.
  • Protect your ears while swimming : Use earplugs or a swimming hat to keep your ears dry when swimming.
  • Protect your ears from irritants : Using items like hair sprays and colors while wearing cotton balls in your ears is a good idea.
  • Use caution after an ear infection or surgery : Consult your doctor before swimming if you recently underwent ear surgery or an infection.
  • Avoid putting foreign objects in your ear : Never use something like a cotton swab, paper clip, or hairpin to scratch an itch or remove earwax. The tiny skin within your ear may get irritated, broken, or packed with stuff if you use these products.

Diagnosis

A physical examination is done to diagnose the swimmer's ear. The skin of the ear canal will appear red, scaled, and peeling when examined using an otoscope. The eardrum could be swollen and irritated. Most of the time, a microscopic inspection of the ear canal discharge will reveal to the doctor if bacteria or fungi are to blame for the illness. A pus sample can be collected to confirm the diagnosis.

Additional examinations, such as skull x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and computed tomography (CT) scans, are performed when the otitis externa is malignant. Depending on the severity of the bone infection (osteomyelitis), the course of treatment might be extended and include several doses of antibiotics. Surgery can also be required.


Treatment

The infection's extent and level of discomfort can determine how it is treated. A doctor can suggest antibiotic-infused ear drops to treat the condition, likely combined with medication to reduce ear canal swelling. Ear drops are typically used many times daily for 7–10 days.

The doctor may insert a small sponge known as a wick to send the medication into the ear if a swollen ear canal makes it difficult to administer the drops. For the ear drops to work more effectively, the doctor may often need to gently clean or suction pus and other buildups from the ear.

Physicians may prescribe oral antibiotics for more severe infections and want to do tests on ear discharge to determine the specific bacteria or fungus causing the problem.

Sometimes, ear discomfort can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers. Usually, a swimmer's ear heals after 7 to 10 days of therapy.


Do’s and Don’ts

You might get surprised to learn that your ear shape might affect your chances of getting a swimmer's ear, a painful outer ear infection. Even though you can't change the way your ears are shaped, doctors say there are steps you can take to help avoid a swimmer's ear.

The otitis externa infection, which medical professionals refer to, most often occurs when water accumulates in your ear canal. However, the problem is more prevalent in those who often swim. Maintaining clean, dry ears is the most crucial step in avoiding a swimmer's ear. Here are the following dos and don'ts to help you manage the symptoms.

Do’sDon’ts
Use hydrogen peroxide to clean your ears Scratch your ears roughly
Use cloth to dry the earsUse cotton swabs or tissues to clean or dry your ears
Wear ear plugs or bathing caps while swimming in waterSwim in polluted swimming pools
Avoid sticking any objects into the ear Swallow the water you swim
Use ear drops to loosen the wax Ignore any new persisting symptoms

Care at Medicover Hospitals

At Medicover hospital, we have the best ENT specialists who provide Swimmer's Ear treatment with utmost precision. Our highly skilled team utilizes the latest medical equipment, diagnostic procedures, and technologies to treat various infections. For Swimmer's Ear, our doctors work closely with patients to monitor their condition and treatment progress for faster and sustained recovery.

Citations

https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/swimmer-ear.html
https://www.enthealth.org/conditions/swimmers-ear-otitis-externa/
https://www.pennmedicine.org/updates/blogs/health-and-wellness/2018/august/swimmers-ear
https://uihc.org/health-topics/otitis-externa-get-rid-swimmers-ear
https://wexnermedical.osu.edu/blog/swimmers-ear
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3567906/
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