All You Need to Know About Swimmer’s Ear

Now that the good weather has finally arrived. many of us are going to the pool or sea in order to cool down. It’s great to see everybody getting back to the water again after a difficult couple of years. However, with water sports comes and increase in swimmer’s ear.

What Is Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear is an infection found in the outer ear canal. This can be defined as an are that extends from the outer ear (pinna) to the eardrum (tympanic membrane). The official, medical name for swimmers ear is otitis externa. When moisture gets caught in the outer ear space, this creates a perfect breeding ground for bacterial growth. This bacteria can then enter the skin of the ear canal and result in swimmer’s ear.

What Causes Swimmer’s Ear?

Moisture in the ear is the main culprit when it comes to Swimmer’s Ear. Debris can also be retained in the ear after swimming can cause this problem. However it is not just swimming. Showering and bathing can also cause it. In fact, any moist environment can be a source of retained moisture.

Swimmer’s ear should be treated as soon as it becomes a problem in order to protect your hearing and to prevent further infection.

What Else Can Cause Swimmer’s Ear?

Some extra causes of Swimmer’s Ear can include:

  • Exposure to bacteria from polluted water or hot tubs
  • Frequent cleaning of the ear canal with cotton buds
  • Eczema or seborrhea, which can cause cuts in the ear canal for bacteria to get in
  • Hairspray or hair dye that has entered the ear canal

What Symptoms Do you Get with Swimmer’s Ear?

Itching and irritation in the ear canal can be the result of a mild cases of swimmer’s ear. This pain may worsen when you pull on the outer ear (pinna). Your ear may well feel blocked or swollen. Also present may be a clear, odourless discharge.

Severe Cases of Swimmer’ Ear

In extreme cases, the following symptoms can occur:

  • Temperature or Fever
  • Reduced hearing
  • Pain that is intense and can spread to face, head or neck
  • Swelling and redness of the skin around the ear
  • Discharge that has an odour

Generally, you should not be concerned if you have Swimmer’s Ear. It is a condition that can be cleared up quickly once treated. Left untreated though and it can be a real danger, especially for elderly people, those with immune system problems, or people with diabetes.

Can Swimmer’s Ear Cause Complications?

Yes, if it is not treated. Problems can include

  • Hearing loss
  • Ear infections that recur (chronic otitis externa)
  • Cartilage or bone damage

How Do You Treat Swimmer’s Ear?

A doctor should take a look if you have swimmer’s ear. That person will carry out an otoscopic examination to ensure that there is no eardrum perforation and risk of moisture entering the middle ear. Your doctor should be able to clean the infected area to reduce the pain and irritation. Antibiotic ear drops will then need to be taken to stop the infection. During the healing process it is important that the infected ears are kept dry.

How to Avoid Getting Swimmer’s Ear

  • If you don’t want to get Swimmer’s Ear, there are some simple measures you can take to protect yourself.
  • When you have been in the water, dry your ears. Let your head tip to one side and allow the water to drain out. Do this for both ears. Cotton buds should never be used for this. Instead use a tissue or dry towel.
  • Stop water from getting in the ear by wearing earplugs. We have a wide selection of earplugs for swimming, manufactured by leading brands such as Mack’s, Speedo and Zoggs.
  • Keep proper earwax hygiene. The outside of the the ear canal is protected by your earwax. Too much or too little can be cause a problem. Avoid using cotton buds to clean the ears as they can cause ear canal damage and this can lead to infection.
  • Keep your skin healthy. The skin inside of your ear canal protects and prevents infection.
    Health conditions that cause dry or cracked skin can open you up to the risk of infection.
  • Don’t let chemicals enter your ear. If you must use hairspray or hair dye, protect the entrance of your ear with your hands or by using earplugs.
  • Use ear drops. Some over-the-counter medicines to prevent swimmer’s ear do exist. Ear drops can can be bought that will protect your ears from trapped water.

Whilst it is important to be on the lookout for symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear. However, there’s no reason it should prevent you from taking to the water and enjoying the summer!

Photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash

Zoom Health is a leading UK supplier of  Home Health Tests and Earplugs

This post was originally published in June 2021.

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