While swimmer’s ear may sound akin to having a lucky rabbit’s foot, the opposite is actually true. This painful condition, also known as acute otitis externa, causes infection and inflammation of the outer ear. As you may be able to guess from the name alone, this ear infection is often the result of too much water getting into the ears, whether you are an avid swimmer or you just drenched yourself in a hot shower for too long. Of course, there are other reasons why you may be prone to these infections.
Sure, this infection tends to be more common in children and teens, but if you happen to clean your ears regularly with cotton swabs, if you end up damaging or cutting the skin of the ear canal or if you’ve been diagnosed with eczema of the ear canal, then you too could be at risk for developing this type of ear infection.
Once the water is trapped inside the ear canal, it leaves the ear susceptible to bacteria and infection. If you have swimmer’s ear, you most likely know it because the inflammation causes pain. Since it is indeed an infection, it’s important that you turn to your otolaryngologist for proper medical attention. Not only will the treatment help eliminate your pain and discomfort but it will also stop the infection from spreading.
Besides pain, you may also notice that your ear feels as if there's fluid in it, which may also be drained. Since swimmer’s ear is an infection, you may also notice that the lymph nodes around the neck and ears are swollen. Some patients even report minor hearing loss. Of course, a young child can’t often describe their symptoms, but you may notice your little one tugging at their ear, unable to sleep, or more irritable and cranky. If you notice these symptoms then it’s time to take your child to the ENT doctor.
What can happen if swimmer’s ear isn’t treated properly? You may experience chronic or recurring infections. You may find that even if the condition clears up that your hearing loss has not fully returned. There may even be damage to the bones and cranial nerves.
When you come in to see your ENT specialist, they will most likely prescribe eardrops to treat the infection. They may also clean out the infected ear canal. These eardrops will serve to kill the bacteria and reduce pain and inflammation. Make sure to follow the instructions for your medication and continue to use it even once your symptoms have gone away, or according to what your physician has prescribed. This will ensure that all the bacteria are destroyed and that you won’t develop another infection.
Protect the health of your ears. If you think you may have swimmer’s ear, or if you are experiencing any kind of ear pain, it’s a good idea to play it safe and visit an ear, nose and throat specialist right away for care.