Swimmer’s Ear 101
Over 2 million doctor visits a year in the United States have to do with swimmer’s ear. That is right, you are not alone in your suffering. Some people would suggest never swimming in a public pool again, but after you read this article you should feel more confident concerning how to avoid swimmer’s ear this summer.
Swimmer’s ear is the colloquial terminology for what medical professionals call and Otitis Externa. Occasionally people confuse another ear condition-Otitis Media-with swimmer’s ear, but the two are not one and the same. Otitis Externa is an inflammation of the ear, especially the ear canal. Normal symptoms include swelling and sensitivity to touch. In extreme cases the shape of the ear can change (from a wide external auditory channel to a narrow one) and other cases include pus in the ear canal.
Typically swimmer’s ear starts with itchy ears and ear canal. Next, the earache sets in. Keep in mind that this earache is aggravated by touch/pulling. This leads to fever and inflammation of the skin. The final stage is pus draining from the ear. Sounds gross, looks grosser.
Swimmer’s ear does not always come from the water, but prolonged exposure to the water is one of the main causes. Staying in the water for a long period of time can compromise the ear canal’s skin and allows for microbes to settle in to the area.
What happens is that the microbes that cause swimmers ear live in the water. Chlorine in the pool actually changes the conditions in your ears from acidic to alkaline. This makes the ear canal a much better host for the microbes. The combination of the presence of microbes with an alkaline environment is what causes most cases of swimmer’s ear. The most common microbes to cause problems are the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa and the fungus Candida albicans. If the cause is bacterial, antibiotics are necessary in the more extreme cases of swimmer’s ear.
Keep in mind that NOT ALL CASES of Otitis Externa are caused by these microbes so it means that not all cases are going to need antibiotics.
What to do
First, there are a few things to keep in mind. The inflammation of the skin means that it is possible to irritate that area more. Touching the ear and pulling the ear and the areas around your ears can actually make the infection worse.
Second, be extremely careful about trying to clean out the area. Touching the outside of the ear can irritate the condition, but touching the inside of the ear with a Q-tip can make it much worse. Only use a cotton swab when you have swimmer’s ear if it is part of an antibiotic treatment prescribed by your doctor. Typically, the best thing to do is to allow the disease to run its course and leave the affected area untouched.
Some cases can cure themselves. Otitis Externa has a built-in end. However, if the infection gets worse you are going to need medical antibiotics. If your ear is scaly or in pain, the best solution is to seek medical attention. Antibiotics usually come in the form of ear drops but you can also have pills to take if your case is more extreme.
For milder cases avoid touching that area of your head. Also don’t go swimming or take long showers. If you can, avoid shampooing your hair for a few days so you don’t irritate the area more.
Prevention is the best policy when it comes to swimmer’s ear. There are lots of things you can do to avoid getting it in the first place. First, clean all the water out of your ears after you are done. Use a towel to dry out your ear. If water is in deeper, tilt your head so that your ear is parallel with the ground. Then, pull on your ear a few times to open up the canal.
DO NOT PUT THINGS INTO YOUR EAR CANAL TO DRY IT OUT! If you do have the microbes in your ear this will just push them in deeper.
Also, you can always add a pair of earplugs to your work out. This will keep the water from getting in your ears to begin with. You can also substitute a pair of our Swimbuds Headphones with your iPod as they were designed to mimic ear plugs and keep water out of your ears. Did you even need another reason to swim with our product? Well now you know that it actually helps protect you from swimmer’s ear!
Have any burning questions about swimmer’s ear? If you do, you should probably seek medical attention!