If you’re like many people, you may think of a swimmer’s ear as something you can only get while swimming. While it’s certainly associated with being in the water (like the ocean or the pool), you can also get a swimmer’s ear on dry land.
What is a swimmer’s ear?
Also known as otitis externa, a swimmer’s ear refers to an infection in the ear canal. The ear canal is the pathway running from the outer to the middle ear. It consists of bone and skin leading to the eardrum.
What causes a swimmer’s ear?
The outer ear has natural defenses for warding off infection. The waxy substance (also known as the cerumen), for example, is acidic which keeps further growth of bacteria. The cartilage also partly covers the ear canal, which keeps the foreign bodies from entering the canal.
A swimmer’s ear can occur if these natural defenses are overwhelmed.
There are certain factors that can weaken the ear’s natural defenses and promote bacterial growth. This includes excessive moisture in the ear, abrasions in the ear canal, and sensitivity reactions. These things can be brought about by swimming especially in contaminated water, aggressive cleaning of the ear canal, and the use of certain devices such as hearing aids or earbuds.
What are the symptoms of a swimmer’s ear?
Initially, you may experience mild symptoms such as itching in the ear canal, mild discomfort, slight redness in the ear, and drainage of clear, odorless fluid.
When left unmanaged, this ear infection can worsen these symptoms. You may have more intense itching, pain, excessive fluid drainage, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and muffled hearing.
How is it treated?
Prior to treatment, the doctor will have to make sure that the ear canal is clean. A clean ear canal allows easy flow of the medication into the affected area.
To do that, the doctor may use a suction device or an ear curette to clean away the discharges and clumps of wax.
Once it’s clean, the doctor may prescribe you a medicated ear drop which may be acidic (to restore the ear’s antibacterial environment), antibacterial (if it’s caused by bacteria), steroid (to reduce the inflammation), or antifungal (if it’s caused by fungi). In many cases, the ear drop is a combination of any of these, depending on one’s condition and causative factors.
While on treatment, it’s important to avoid activities that may further aggravate your condition. This includes flying, diving, swimming, putting in earplugs, or soaking the ears in water.
If you suspect you have a swimmer’s ear, seeing a specialist immediately can help restore your ear’s health. Greater Knoxville ENT has doctors who can help you. For appointment requests, you may call us at (865) 244-4396.