Swimmer's ear - also known as otitis - is an infection in the outer ear canal. This is an area that extends from the outer ear to the eardrum. Moisture gets trapped in the outer ear space, leading to bacterial growth, which can harm the skin of the ear canal.
Swimmer’s ear can be caused from debris or moisture that gets stuck in the ear canal from bathing, swimming, showering, or being in other wet environments. This should be taken seriously by getting treatment so that it doesn’t lead to hearing loss or become further infected.
What happens when someone gets swimmer’s ear?
With treatment, swimmer’s ear can quickly heal. If left untreated, it can be potentially dangerous and painful, especially for those with immune system irregularities or diabetes.
What are the complications?
Hearing loss, recurring infections, or cartilage and bone damage can occur with untreated swimmer’s ear. Infections can spread to the cranial nerves, brain, or base of the skull, especially in diabetics and the elderly.
If you suffer from swimmer’s ear, get an exam to make sure the eardrum is not perforated. A perforated eardrum may allow infection to spread to the middle ear. The ear will be cleaned and antibiotic ear drops will be dispensed if the eardrum is intact. Oral medication may also be prescribed for more serious infections. Other medications can be given if the infection does not clear up in three to four days. The ear must stay dry during the recovery process.
You can prevent swimmer’s ear by keeping water out of the ear. The best solution is using earplugs when coming in contact with water. You can get over-the-counter earplugs or custom earplugs from a hearing instrument specialist.
Maintain proper skin health. Cracked skin can be a pathway to infection. Another form of prevention is to protect your ears from chemicals, like hair dye or hairspray, with earplugs or cotton balls. Also, keep your ears dry after swimming by tipping your head each way to the side to let water drain out of each ear. Don’t use cotton swabs. A towel or tissue is okay.
Maintain proper earwax hygiene. Too much or too little can be problematic. Earwax helps to protect the outer ear canal, but too much earwax buildup can become impacted. Using cotton swabs or ear candling can damage the ears, which can lead to infection.
Consider using over-the-counter ear drops to prevent swimmer’s ear when you go swimming. Do not put anything in the ear canal if you suspect you have a perforated eardrum! A physician will be needed to assess the condition of the eardrum.
If you suffer from hearing loss due to swimmer’s ear, please contact one of our hearing instrument specialists at Pure Sound Hearing Aids for a free hearing test and consultation.