Known better by its common name, swimmer’s ear is actually an infection in the
outer ear canal—the tube that connects the eardrum to the outside of the head.
Swimmer’s ear is most often caused by water trapped inside the canal – usually after
swimming or showering.
Bacteria grow in this fluid and invade the thin lining of your ear canal, causing infection.
Also called acute otitis externa, swimmer’s ear can also be triggered by placing cotton
swabs, fingers or other objects into the ear.
Symptoms of acute otitis externa will progress from mild to severe.
● Itching in the ear canal
● Redness inside the ear
● Slight discomfort or pain when you pull up on your outer ear
● A small amount of clear, odorless fluid draining from the ear canal
● Increased itching
● Increased redness
● Draining pus from the ear canal
● More severe pain
● Muffled hearing
● A feeling of fullness inside the ear
● Pain that radiates down the face, neck or side of the head
● Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
● Swelling or redness of your outer ear
Swimmer’s ear is usually treated with antibiotic ear drops, but you should consult
with your health care provider if swimmer’s ear is accompanied by symptoms of
an ear infection, dizziness, or ringing in the ears.
Three ways you can prevent infection
Preventing swimmer’s ear is easy with a few steps.
1) Keep your ears dry.
If you are exposed to water, make sure to dry your ears well.
There’s no need to stick anything inside your ears—just rub the outer ear with a soft
cloth or towel and tip your head to the side to help any water drain.
You can even use a hairdryer on low heat to blow a little air into your ear.
2) Swim with caution.
Avoid water that carries a heavy bacterial load.
This is more common in natural water sources like rivers or lakes, but avoid getting
water into your ears if the bacteria levels are up.
Look for signs or warnings alerting you to this fact.
3) Don’t put anything into your ear canal.
It can be tempting to try and remove earwax or scratch an itch with a pencil, paperclip
or other object.
Avoid putting anything into your ear and only use cotton swabs with caution.
Never push them deeply into the ear—you could pack wax further in and any of these
items could scratch your skin and open an area for infection.
If you do notice symptoms of swimmer’s ear, make an appointment to see your doctor
or healthcare provider.
Some cases can be treated with home remedies, but until you are sure what the problem
is and how to manage it, always seek medical attention first.
Have you or someone you know suffered from swimmer’s ear?
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