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Swimmer's Ear

What is Swimmer's Ear?

Swimmer's ear is an infection of the ear canal. The ear canal is the tubular opening that carries sounds from the outside of the body to the eardrum.

Swimmer's ear commonly occurs in people who spend a lot of time in the water. Too much moisture in the ear can irritate and break down the skin in the canal, allowing bacteria or fungi to penetrate.

In temperate climates, swimmer's ear occurs more frequently during the summer months, when swimming is more common.

Swimmer's ear is also called otitis externa. Swimmer's ear is not contagious.

What Causes Swimmer's Ear?

Swimmer's ear is caused by many different types of bacteria or fungi. It most often occurs in people who spend a lot of time in the water. However, it can also occur in people who don't swim often.

Swimmer's ear can develop when when there is a break or tear in the skin of the ear canal. Dry skin, eczema, scratching the ear canal, vigorous ear cleaning with cotton-tipped applicators, or inserting foreign objects like bobby pins or paper clips into the ear can cause tears or breakage in the skin of the ear canal.

Symptoms of Swimmer's Ear

The most common symptom is ear pain. The pain may be severe and worsens when the earlobe or other exterior part of the ear is touched or moved. Other symptoms are:

  • pain when chewing
  • itching in the ear canal
  • swelling of the ear canal
  • clear or yellowish discharge from the ear canal
  • fever
  • decreased hearing
  • swollen lymph nodes

Tips to Prevent Swimmer's Ear

Some simple ways of avoiding swimmer's ear are:

  1. Keep the water out while you're showering: use earplugs or a shower
  2. Protect your ear canals when swimming. Wear earplugs, and resist the urge to take a dip in any polluted waters: keep swimming pools clean, and bypass those lakes and ponds.
  3. Take special care when cleaning ears. Wipe outer ear clean with a soft cloth wrapped around your finger, and avoid poking into the ear canal, especially with pointed objects. You don't want to disrupt the natural wax coating in your ear that protects against harmful bacteria.
  4. Guard your ears from the chemical irritants in beauty products such as hairspray or hair dye by placing cotton in your ears.

Can Swimmer's Ear be Treated?

Yes. If swimmer's ear is not treated properly, the infection may extend to the outer ear.

The treatment will depend on the severity of the infection. Treatment options include:

  • eardrops that inhibit bacterial growth
  • antibiotics
  • pain medication

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