Tips And Treats
Swimmer's Ear Tips
Swimmer's Ear or Otitis externa is an inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal. It often develops after water has gotten into the ear, especially after swimming. Sand or other debris that gets into the ear canal may also cause swimmer's ear as well as a scratch from an object like a cotton swab. Unlike a middle ear infection, the pain from swimmer's ear is worse when you chew when you press on the "tag" in front of the ear or when you wiggle your earlobe.
Last Updated -15th December 2005
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Otitis externa is fairly common, especially among teenagers and young adults. Swimming in polluted water is one way to contract swimmer's ear, but it is also possible to contract swimmer's ear by swimming in a pool that is well maintained or even from water trapped in the ear canal after a shower, especially in a humid climate. Water trapped in the ear canal is not the only cause, however -- the condition can be caused by scratching the ear or an object stuck in it. Trying to clean wax from the ear canal, especially with cotton swabs or small objects, can irritate or damage the skin. It is occasionally associated with middle ear infection (otitis media) or upper respiratory infections such as colds. Middle ear infections can occur after the ear drum is perforated by a fungal growth from the outer ear. Moisture in the ear predisposes the ear to infection from fungus or water-loving bacteria such as Pseudomonas.
- Ear pain -- may worsen when pulling the outer ear
- Itching of the ear or ear canal
- Drainage from the ear -- yellow, yellow-green, pus-like, or foul smelling
- Decreased hearing or hearing loss
- A feeling of fullness in the ear.
- Discharge from the ear.
Signs and tests
When the physician looks in the ear, it appears red and swollen, including the ear canal. The ear canal may appear eczema-like, with scaly shedding of skin. Touching or moving the outer ear increases the pain. It may be difficult for the physician to see the eardrum with an otoscope. Taking some of the ear's drainage and doing a culture on it may identify bacteria or fungus.
- Dry the ear thoroughly after exposure to moisture.
- Avoid swimming in polluted water.
- Use earplugs when swimming.
- After swimming or showering, shake your head to remove water from the ear canal.
- Gently dry your ears after showering or swimming with the corner of a tissue or towel.
- Put a few drops of rubbing alcohol mixed with an equal amount of white vinegar in the ear after swimming or showering.
- Use nonprescription drops (Swim-Ear, Star-Otic)to prevent swimmer's ear.
- Never put anything smaller than an elbow into the ear canal.
- Avoid prolonged use of earplugs.
- Avoid getting soap and shampoo in the ear canal.
- Remove sand or dirt that gets into the ear with a bulb syringe or direct a gentle stream of warm water into your ear then tip your head to let the water drain out.
- Treat skin problems such as eczema, psoriasis or seborrhea that may cause ear canal irritation.
- Cotton coated with petroleum jelly can be used as an earplug.
- Avoid getting water in the ear until the irritation clears up.
- Do not use plastic earplugs if your ear is inflamed or infected. Instead use cotton coated with petroleum jelly.
- If your ear is itchy, try non prescription swimmer's eardrops before and after swimming or showering.
- Never stick a dropper into the ear canal. Put drops on the outer ear near the opening of the ear canal and gently wiggle the ear until the drops flow into the canal.
- To ease ear pain, apply a warm washcloth or heating pad set on low.
- Acetaminophen or aspirin may help relieve pain.
WHEN TO CALL YOUR PHYSICIAN
- If drainage from your ear contains pus or blood.
- If ear pain and itching persist or worsen after 3 days of treatment.
- If the ear canal is swollen, red or very painful.
- If redness extends to the outer ear.
- If there is redness or swelling behind the ear.
- If ear pain follows a cold or sinus infection.
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