Forget the summer of love or Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69. 2024’s summer is the Summer of Tiptop ENT Health! Catchy, isn’t it? As the weather begins to heat up, you might start to notice distractions in the form of ice-cold beers, summer music festivals, warm beaches, and sparkling pool water. However, don’t let these temptations keep you from paying attention to the health of your ears, nose, and throat.

Here are some common ENT conditions encountered in the summer and how to manage them.

Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear is a common infection of the ear canal, also known as otitis externa. Water trapped in the ear canal, whether from swimming, bathing, or just plain bad luck, creates the ideal environment for bacteria and fungi to thrive. The proliferation of these undesirable organisms results in the typical symptoms of pain, redness, itching, hearing problems, and discharge from the ear canal.

Children can be particularly susceptible to swimmer’s ear due to slight differences in their ear anatomy when young. Individuals with a propensity for vigorous earwax cleaning are also at a higher risk, as introducing cotton buds, fingernails, or any other earwax scraping tools into the ear canal carries a risk of injuring the skin.

To avoid swimmer’s ear, aim for water play in chlorinated or otherwise treated pools and water parks as opposed to natural lakes or rivers. If you know that you or your children are particularly susceptible to ear infections, you may also want to consider using swimming earplugs or a swim cap, and be sure to dry ears thoroughly afterward.

Should your summer be marred by an ear infection, at least they tend to clear up fairly quickly with a trip to your family doctor and medicated ear drops, whether antibacterial or antifungal.

Allergic Rhinitis

We normally think of allergies as being a springtime problem, but for many people with grass pollen sensitivities, summer can also bring on the sneezing and itching. Summer pollen season in Philadelphia peaks in June, but typically lasts between March and October. Grasses such as the Bermuda, Orchard, Timothy, and Rye varieties are common culprits, as are molds and ragweed pollens.

Commonly known as hay fever, allergic rhinitis can be severe enough to put a real end to your summer fun. The symptoms are all too familiar to hay fever sufferers – sneezing, itching, watery eyes, sore throat, and postnasal drip.

Fortunately, there are a myriad of ways to manage allergies. One is to avoid the allergen, for example, staying indoors on days with a high pollen count. You can also be proactive about taking antihistamine or other anti-allergy medications, or even talking to your doctor about allergen immunotherapy, which is a series of injections to dampen your body’s response to the offending pollen. Some people find that showering and changing their clothing when they return home from outdoors is also useful in minimizing allergens lingering around.

Hearing Loss

Like swimmer’s ear and hay fever, hearing loss isn’t a summer-specific phenomenon. However, with music festivals, pool parties, and even boat motors roaring for your attention, this can still be a timely reminder to look after your hearing.

The perception of sound starts with the stimulation of tiny hair cells in the inner ear. If these microscopic cells, known as stereocilia, become damaged from excessive noise, they don’t regenerate. Over time, this leads to a condition known as noise-induced hearing loss, with symptoms such as difficulty following conversation or perceiving sounds as muffled or muted. Noise-induced hearing loss knows no bounds when it comes to age – even children can be at risk.

So, how loud is too loud? Prolonged or repeated exposure to noise above 80 decibels, A-weighted to account for the human ear’s response to sound (dBA), is considered a risk of permanent hearing loss. For context, normal conversation is typically 60-70dBA while lawnmowers reach up to 100dBA.

To protect your fragile stereocilia, consider wearing foam earplugs or ear mufflers if you know you’re going to be exposed to high volumes. Trendy at an outdoor concert? Maybe not? Will your hearing thank you for it later? Definitely yes.

Grill Brush Injury

This seems like an odd one but has sent more than one unsuspecting burger eater to ER in the past. Wire grill brushes may be a popular tool for cleaning out the grill before throwing on some sausages for a sizzle, but those wire bristles can be nasty. Thin and often a similar color to the grill plate, if a bristle becomes dislodged – as they may be prone to do – it can end up in your food. This can then end up in your throat, esophagus, or even intestines. Treatment for ingesting a wire bristle can range from an inpatient procedure under light sedation to requiring surgery to remove the object.

A wire brush might be ideal for scouring burnt burger patties off your grill but is not ideal for swallowing. There are a number of alternatives for cleaning your grill, such as a nylon-bristle brush or a stainless steel scraper.

With summer getting into full swing and the beach calling your name, there are some things you don’t want to neglect. Taking proper care of your ears, nose, and throat will keep you happy this Summer of Tiptop ENT Health.