A cool summer dip is great this time of year…but what happens when it leaves you with swimmer’s ear? Luckily, there are simple ways to treat swimmer’s ear.
The pesky ailment leads to about 2.4 million doctor visits across the U.S. each year, and though children are more likely to get it, swimmer’s ear can hit people of all ages.
The first part of beating swimmer’s ear is knowing the symptoms. They can include:
- Redness, itching or swelling of the ear
- Pain when the ear is tugged or is under pressure
- Pus discharge from the affected ear
Swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, is actually an infection of the outer ear canal. It can result when water stays in the ear canal for a longer time, which allows germs — such as those found in pools and water parks — to grow and infect skin.
Swimmer’s ear can’t be spread between people, and it’s different from a common middle-ear infection. Usually, if wiggling the outer ear doesn’t cause discomfort, then swimmer’s ear probably isn’t the cause.
Docs can offer a variety of solutions for swimmer’s ear, including:
- Thorough cleaning. A doctor can use a special device to remove earwax, discharge or debris.
- Prescription eardrops. A variety of drops are available, with some combination of inflammation-reducing steroids, an acidic solution to restore the ear’s usual environment, antibiotics to fend off bacteria and/or antifungal ingredients for ailments caused by fungus.
- Pain medicine. Certain over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, naproxen or acetaminophen, can help ease discomfort.
- Antibiotics. If other options don’t work or if the condition is getting worse, then antibiotics can sometimes speed relief.
To help avoid swimmer’s ear, you can try wearing a bathing cap or ear plugs. In addition, always be sure to dry your ears after swimming and showering, and tilt your head with each ear facing downward to allow any trapped water to escape. Never try to remove water or buildup from your ears with cotton swabs, pencils or other objects.
From our own Dr. Neil Sperling:
“Swimmers ear is very common in the warmer months or in anyone who spends a fair amount of time in water, or just in hot humid environments. It can be extremely painful but is quickly improved by appropriate medical treatment. Unfortunately, there is still quite a bit of confusion about its treatment, leading some individuals to have a delay in care. Oral antibiotics are rarely needed. Topical antibiotic (ear drops) are highly effective and should be instituted early to control this condition.”
If you have questions about treating or preventing swimmer’s ear, we’re here for you. With the right care, swimmer’s ear doesn’t have to keep you away from the water for long.