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Swimmer's Ear

 

Swimmer's ear is one of the most common ear problems seen by ear, nose and throat (ENT) physicians. Medically known as external otitis, swimmer's ear is an infection of the outer ear canal that occurs mainly during humid, hot weather.

Causes

  • Trauma, such as a scratch in the ear canal
  • Swimming, as prolonged exposure to water softens the ear canal's skin.
  • Loss of the protective wax layer, allowing bacteria to penetrate the skin and cause an infection.

Symptoms

Early symptoms of swimmer's ear include:

  • Pain in and around the ear, often aggravated by movements of the jaw
  • In later stages, the infection may cause the ear canal to swell shut, resulting in hearing loss
  • There may be discharge from the ear, and the pain can become excruciating
  • In malignant otitis externa the symptoms are the same. In addition, there may be granulation tissue present in the ear canal, cranial nerve dysfunction or a palpable bony defect in the front of the ear canal.

Treatment

Treatment for swimmer's ear can include:

  • Antibiotic ear drops
  • Oral antibiotics
  • Pain medication
  • In some cases, a wick is inserted in the ear canal to help dry out the ear.
  • Therapy for malignant external otitis includes meticulous control of blood glucose and local debridement of granulation tissue. Traditional antibiotic therapy is 6-8 weeks of IV antibiotics.

Prevention

  • Do not use pens, cotton swabs or other objects to clean the ears or to remove wax from the ear canal. A healthy ear usually is self-cleaning
  • Remove any water from the ear canal after swimming or showering by placing a dropper of rubbing alcohol into each ear. The alcohol works as an antiseptic and dries out the ear canal as it evaporates
  • Use a hair dryer on a low, warm setting to blow warm air into the ear to speed up the water's rate of evaporation