An Overview of Swimmer’s Ear – Its Origins, Indicators and Treatment Methods

Swimmer’s ear, formally known as acute external otitis, is an infection that develops in the outer ear canal (the area outside your eardrum). The popular name “swimmer’s ear” comes from the fact that the infection is frequently linked to swimming. When water collects in the outer ear it provides a damp atmosphere in which bacteria may flourish. But water isn’t the only source. An outer ear infection may also be attributable to damaging the delicate skin lining the ear canal by stiking fingertips, Q-tips or other foreign objects in the ear. It is important to be familiar with the signs and symptoms of swimmer’s ear, because although it is simply treated, not treating it can lead to severe complications.

Swimmer’s ear

develops as the result of the ear’s natural defenses (which include the glands that secrete cerumen or ear wax) becoming overloaded. Moisture in the ears, sensitivity reactions, and scratches to the lining of the ear canal can all encourage bacterial growth, and cause infection. The activities that increase your likelihood of developing swimmer’s ear include swimming (especially in untreated water such as that found in lakes), aggressive cleaning of the ear canal with Q-tips, use of in-ear devices such as “ear buds” or hearing aids, and allergies.

The most frequent signs and symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itching in the ear canal, mild pain that is made worse by pulling on your ear, a slight redness inside the ear, and mild drainage of an odorless, clear fluid. In more moderate cases, these problems may progress to more severe itching, pain, and discharge of pus. Extreme cases of swimmer’s ear are accompanied by symptoms such as fever, severe pain which may radiate into other parts of the head, neck and face, swelling redness of the outer ear or lymph nodes, and possibly blockage of the ear canal. Complications may include short-term hearing loss, long-term infection of the outer ear, cartilage and bone loss, and deep-tissue infections that may spread to other areas of the body and lower the effectiveness of your body’s immune system. That is why, if you have any of these signs or symptoms, even if minor, see your health care provider.

Doctors can usually diagnose swimmer’s ear after a visual examination with an otoscope. They will also check at the same time to determine if there is any damage to the eardrum itself. If swimmer’s ear is the problem, it is typically treated first by cleaning the ears carefully, and then prescribing antifungal or antibiotic eardrops to fight the infection. For widespread, severe infections a course of antibiotics taken orally may be prescribed.

You can help to prevent swimmer’s ear by drying your ears after swimming or bathing, by avoiding swimming in untreated water, and by not placing foreign objects in your ears in an attempt to clean them.

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