How You Can Prevent Swimmer's Ear and Other Ear Infections That Peak During Warmer Weather
Whether you are in a pool, in the lake, swimming at the beach, or taking a shower, swimmer's ear can strike anyone at anytime and lead to a painful infection
Warm weather is here and the kids are probably off swimming. But when water gets in the ear from any source, we run the risk of developing a painful infection known as swimmer's ear. This condition is relatively easy to treat, but preventing it is the best course of action. Take some precautions to keep swimmer's ear and other ear infections from causing pain and ruining a summer vacation.
What is swimmer's ear?
Swimmer's ear, or otitis externa, is simply an infection of the ear canal, which runs from the outside of your ear down to your eardrum. This condition is very different from the infections young children typically get after a bad cold, which often happen much deeper in the middle ear behind the eardrum.
Swimmer's ear is usually caused by bacteria, but it's possible to be caused by a virus or fungus.
How Do you Catch It?
Your body is a wonderful invention. It usually fights off any of the harmful things in our environment that make us sick. Your ears have wax to help protect the sensitive parts within, but a disruption in the wax layer or even damage to the skin can allow harmful pathogens to start an infection.
If you stick things in your ears, such as cotton swabs and fingers, you can easily remove the wax layer and irritate the skin. Even if you don't stick things in your ears, moisture may become trapped after swimming, showering, or even heavy sweating, allowing the wax to wash away and an infection to develop. Narrow ear canals make the problem worse.
Symptoms of Swimmer's Ear
The following symptoms can indicate the presence of swimmer's ear:
- Redness and warmness in the outer ear;
- Pain, which can be severe;
- Difficulty hearing;
- Tenderness in parts of the ear when touched or moved;
- Fluid or pus drainage from the ear; and
- Feelings of fullness, itchiness, and irritation in the ear.
Regardless of whether you suspect swimmer's ear or something more sinister, see a doctor immediately if you have ear pain. Getting treatment early can lessen the treatment time and prevent serious damage or hearing loss.
Swimmer's ear is relatively easy to treat. A doctor will examine your ear and may clean it out in order to help medications work more effectively. In most cases, ear drops and steroids are used to treat the infection, though oral antibiotics may be prescribed in more serious cases.
As with other infections, the best way to handle a swimmer's ear infection is to avoid getting it in the first place. Your goal with preventing swimmer's ear and other ear infections is to keep water out and to prevent irritation or damage to the skin inside your ear.
Prevention tips include:
- Using ear plugs when swimming;
- Using ear drops to dry the ears;
- Using a hair dryer on a low setting about twelve inches from the ears to dry them out;
- Keep hearing aids and earbuds clean to prevent bacterial growth;
- Don't swim in lakes, ponds or rivers with lots of bacteria;
- Avoid using earbuds for extended periods;
- Use cotton balls to protect the ear when using hair spray, dye or other products with harsh chemicals; and
- Not placing foreign objects, including cotton swabs, into the ear.