It’s Summer! How to Guard Against Swimmer’s Ear

Boy with Swimmers EarSummer has just arrived and with it comes lots of fun in and visits to pools. That got us thinking about swimmer’s ear and earaches in general.

Swimmer’s ear is an infection, irritation, or inflammation of the skin that covers that part of the outer ear that leads to the ear drum. Medically, it’s referred to as acute external otitis.

Causes are usually attributable to bacteria, i.e., streptococcus, staphylococcus, or pseudomonas, found in the water that gets caught or trapped in the ear. Infection can occur because the bacteria in the trapped water multiply.

How Do You Know if You Have Swimmer’s Ear?
The most common symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear are:

  • Itching (inside the ear canal). Also look for skin inflammation and redness
  • Pain (over time) that feels worse if you tug on your ear lobe. It can also spread to your neck, face, and side of head
  • Blocked or full sensation in the ear
  • Ear drainage
  • Fever
  • Hearing loss

 
How to Treat Swimmer’s Ear
If you suffer from the aforementioned symptoms, consult with an ENT doctor immediately. Leaving Swimmer’s Ear untreated can trigger more ear infections, hearing loss, and bone/cartilage loss (yes, bacteria will spread to the brain, skull, and even cranial nerves).
 
Your ENT doctor most likely will treat your Swimmer’s Ear in the following way:

  • Thoroughly clean your ear canal
  • Prescribe/apply ear drops to stop the bacterial growth (this also applies to fungal growth)

 
How to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear
When you think about Swimmer’s Ear, think moisture. Thus, preventing Swimmer’s Ear is all about dryness.

  • Dry your ears after bathing or swimming using a towel or even a hair dryer
  • Ear plugs will keep water out
  • Get your ears cleaned from time to time by your ENT doctor
  • Warning: do not use cotton swabs (Q-tips) to remove anything in the inner ear, i.e., moisture, earwax, etc. They just push the moisture, dirt, and ear wax deeper into your ear canal. They can also remove an important layer of earwax that protects your ear and this could cause irritation and eventual infection

 
Home Remedies for Earaches
Truth be told, if you get a persistent earache or feel as though you have an ear infection, make an appointment to see your ENT doctor. It just might be an ear infection but it might referred pain from a sinus infection, sore throat, even a toothache. So, don’t presume to diagnose yourself with an ear infection even though it may feel like one and do not take antibiotics with a prescription.
 
While you await the appointment and if approved by the ENT office in the interim, consider these home remedies for earaches:

  • NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs) such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin can be purchased over-the-counter at any drugstore
  • Heating pads – applying heat from a heating pad can help to reduce inflammation and irritation in your ear
  • Ice or a cold pack – both can act as a mild anesthetic to relive the pain associated with ear pain
  • OTC ear drops – can help to ear pressure caused by fluid buildup and earwax (Warning: ear drops are not meant as a substitution for ear drops or antibiotics prescribed by your doctor. Use them sparingly. Also, don’t apply ear drops to your child’s ear if he/she has tubes or a ruptured eardrum.)
  • Massage – can relieve the pain associated with ear pain but can also induce fluid drainage from the ears
  • Garlic – a clove of garlic each day keeps the…. No, actually it’s not intended to keep the doctor away. Garlic is not a substitute for antibiotics but it might be able to fight your infection
  • Onions – similar to garlic but you’re applying the onion juice to your ear instead of eating it. Heat the onion in the microwave for a few minutes, drain the liquid, cool it down, and apply. Remember, onions are not a substitute for antibiotic treatments
  • Suck on hard candy or cough drops – provides relief by reducing pressure in your Eustachian tubes
  • Breast milk – topically applying a few drops of breast milk in your ear can help fight your ear infection whether you’re a baby or an adult

 

 
References
American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery
http://www.entnet.org/content/swimmers-ear
 
Nine effective home remedies for earache
http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318057.php

 

 


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