What Is Swimmer’s Ear?
Otitis externa is inflammation of the external ear canal – the most common type is acute otitis externa, also known as swimmer’s ear. The development requires two events: presence of bacteria and an injury to the skin of the ear canal. Additionally, moisture creates an environment in the ear that contributes to the infection. Symptoms include pain, swelling of the ear canal, decreased hearing, and ear drainage. Although bacterial infection is most common, fungal infections occur as well.
Swimming in unclean water is a common cause. Other possible causes include being in a warm humid environment, cleaning or scratching ears using your fingers, cotton swabs, or other objects, having an injury to the ear canal, having dry ear canal skin, having an object in the ear canal, and having extra ear wax.
Treatment involves cleaning of infected debris from the ear canal by an ENT specialist, antibiotic ear drops, and dry ear precautions. One can help prevent these types of infections by avoiding the use of Q-tips and other instruments inside the ears. For those who suffer recurrent, infections using ear plugs while swimming or bathing and using alcohol-based drops after swimming or bathing can be helpful.
Otitis externa can become a chronic condition. A common cause is eczema or seborrheic dermatitis of the ear canal. Sufferers from this condition have itchy irritated ears and often feel compelled to scratch the ear canals with Q-tips or other implements. This itch scratch cycle tends to exacerbate the problem and can result in acute infection. Treatment of all strict dry ear precautions, avoiding scratching the ear, and the use of steroid and/or antibiotic drops or creams in the ear.