couple talking on the couch

Summer is upon us, which means warmer days, Barbecues, and trips to the lake or the pool. However, sometimes our quest to cool off in the water can lead to an irritating swimmer’s ear or even temporary hearing loss. Here are some tips to help prevent swimmer’s ear and some remedies you can use if you get it.

What is swimmer’s ear?

Let’s first talk about what swimmer’s ear truly is. Otitis externa (swimmer’s Ear) Is a skin infection of the ear canal, and it can be excruciating. Symptoms generally occur when water is trapped in your ear, particularly if the water has bacterial or fungal organisms in it. Due to the nature of swimmers most commonly affected by this, it is known as swimmer’s ear.

However, you don’t have to be a swimmer to develop swimmer’s ear. Anything that can cause a break in the ear canal skin can lead to an infection. Eczema, dry skin, excess ear wax, and those who wear hearing aids or earbuds, or even scratching the ear canal, over-active cleaning with a cotton swab, or inserting foreign objects like bobby pins can all increase the risk of otitis externa.

Lastly, If someone has an infection of the middle ear, pus collated in the middle ear can drain into the ear canal and cause this issue.

Stressful home work environment causing increase in tinnitus

Swimmer’s ear signs and symptoms.

The signs and symptoms of swimmer’s ear may include but are not limited to:

  • Pain inside the ear that worsens when pulling on the outer ear (most common)
  • Itching inside the ear (most common)
  • Sensation the ear is full or blocked (common)
  • Sensation the ear is full or blocked (common)
  • Seepage from the ear(common)
  • Decreased hearing (common)
  • Swollen lymph nodes near the ear or upper neck (common)
  • Intense pain spreading to the side of the head, face, or neck (less common)
  • Fever (less common)
  • Redness or swelling of the skin around the ear

With most inner ear issues, if left untreated, a degree of hearing loss may occur. Generally, once the infection has cleared up, hearing returns to normal.

Chronic otitis externa or long-term infection is considered chronic if signs and symptoms persist for more than three months. These conditions are more common if there are circumstances that make treatment hard; this can include; rare strains of bacteria, allergic skin reactions, allergic reaction to antibiotic ear drops, a skin condition such as dermatitis or psoriasis, or a combination of bacterial and fungal infection.

Hearing Loss

Tips to prevent swimmer’s ear?

Here are a few tips to follow to avoid swimmer’s ear this summer.

Swim sensibly – Keep an eye on signs notifying swimmers of high bacterial counts, and be sure not to swim on those days.

Keep your ears dry – After each time swimming, or even bathing, be sure to dry only the outer portion of your ear by wiping it gently with a soft cloth or towel. Avoid using swabs around or inside the ear and canal.

After bathing or swimming, if you have water in your ears, tip your head to the side to help drain water from your ear canal. You can dry your ears with a blow dryer on the lowest setting and hold it at least one foot from your ear.

Use discretion after an ear infection or surgery – If you have had a surgery or ear infection, be sure to talk to your doctor before swimming.

At Home – As long as you know you do not suffer from a punctured eardrum, you can make at-home ear drops to use before and after swimming. Mixing 1 part white vinegar to 1 part rubbing alcohol can help promote drying within the ear and help stop the growth of bacteria that can cause swimmer’s ear.

Hearing Loss

Swimmers ear treatment

The type of treatment is dependent upon the severity of the infection and how painful it is. Your healthcare provider may prescribe antibiotic ear drops to fight the condition, and they may mix this with a steroid to reduce swelling in the ear canal. Ear drops are generally used several times a day for a length of seven to ten days.

If there is swelling in the ear canal, it will make utilizing ear drops more difficult. The doctor might need to remove pus and other buildups from the ear, allowing the drops to be more effective.

If an infection is more severe, oral antibiotics might be prescribed, and your PCP might want to run labs on the discharge to see if they can see which bacteria or fungi are causing the issue.

OTC (Over-The-Counter) pain relievers often manage ear pain. Still, an OTC pain medication might be helpful if the pain is severe. Once you begin treatment, you will typically feel better within a day or two. Swimmer’s ear is usually cured within a week to ten days of starting treatment.

If you or your child develops swimmer’s ear, your summer fun does not have to come to an end. You should contact your doctor or hearing healthcare provider if you have pain in the ear with or without a fever right away. Decreased hearing loss can occur if left untreated, along with discomfort and even more time away from the pool or lake.

Salem Audiology Clinic can help. Reach out to us today and find out how.

Call us today at (503)877-1684