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Swimmer’s ear refers to an infection of the outer ear canal. The outer ear canal runs from the eardrum and travels to the outside of the head. The infection usually occurs from water that stays in your ear after swimming, which provides a suitable moist environment for bacteria to thrive in.

Putting cotton swabs, your fingers or other objects into your ears may damage the thin layer of skin overlying the ear canal, thus resulting in a swimmer’s ear infection.

Swimmer’s ear is also called otitis externa or acute external otitis. The infection is most commonly caused due to bacteria that invade the thin layer of skin of the ear canal. Swimmer’s ear can be effectively treated with eardrops. Prompt treatment is necessary to make sure future complications and more severe infections are prevented.

A short YouTube video on How to Care for Swimmer’s Ear

Signs and symptoms of a swimmer’s ear

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear are initially mild but they worsen with time if the infection is left untreated. Swimmer’s itch is classified as mild, moderate and advanced progression.

Mild signs and symptoms include:

  • Itching in the ear canal
  • Subtle redness of the inner ear
  • Drainage – clear and odorless fluid
  • Mild discomfort – may worsen when the bump in front of the ear is pushes or the outer ear is pulled

Moderate progression signs and symptoms include:

  • Increasing pain
  • Itchiness is more intense
  • Redness is more extensive
  • Excessive drainage of fluid
  • Pus discharge
  • Muffled or reduced hearing
  • A feeling of fullness in the inner ear
  • A partial blockage in the ear canal caused by swelling, debris and fluid

Advanced progression signs and symptoms include:

  • Severe pain – pain may radiate to the side of the head, face or neck
  • Swelling or redness of the outer ear
  • Complete blockage of the ear canal
  • Fever
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck

When to seek medical attention

See your doctor even if you experience mild signs and symptoms of swimmer’s ear. Seek immediate medical attention if swimmer’s ear is companied by fever or severe pain.

Treatment for Swimmer’s Ear

Treatment aims and stopping the infection with cleaning and medication and allowing the ear canal to recover.

Cleaning is vital to allow the flow to eardrops to infected regions of the ear. Your doctor will most likely use a suction tool to clean fluids, discharge, debris, earwax and flaky skin.

Medication includes eardrops with a combination of:

  • Acidic solution to restore the antibacterial environment of the ear
  •  Steroid injections to control inflammation
  • Antibiotics to fight bacteria
  • Antifungal medication in case the infection is fungal

You can also take pain medication such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce pain and discomfort of the ear. If pain is persistent or severe even with the use of medication, your doctor may prescribe a stronger pain medication.

The following tips may help you use ear drops in a better way:

  • Bring the eardrops to your body temperature by holding the bottle for a few minutes. This will reduce discomfort caused by cool fluids
  • Lie on your side while using the ear drops
  • It is better if you ask someone to put the ear drops into your ear