Swimmer’s ear medically termed as otitis externa is caused by a prolonged exposure of excessive moisture in the ear canal. The ear canal is a tubular open passage of the ear ending internally at the ear drum. Now, this otitis externa is seen commonly in regular swimmers. It can also occur when there is trauma to the lining skin of the ear canal. This trauma can be caused by cleaning the ear with ear buds, hair pins or safety pins, children inserting foreign bodies into the ear, if there is an eczema of the ear skin or if there is any allergic irritation from shampoos, hairsprays or earrings. Now the infecting agents are generally an overgrowth of bacteria like staph aureus bacteria which is most common and it can also sometimes be caused by fungus or a virus.
The symptoms can include itching of the ear canal, which is an initial presentation. There can be pain in the ear, which is worsened by tugging at the ear or pushing onto the tragus, which is a small triangular projection that you find at the opening of the ear canal. This pain may be worsened while chewing or yawing. There can be a feeling of fullness in the ear, which is a result of the inflammation and swelling in the ear canal. There can be some dampened hearing and foul smelling discharge from the ear.
Otitis externa is diagnosed by a doctor upon clinical examination of the ear canal with an otoscope. The otoscope is a special instrument that the doctor uses to visualize the ear drum and canal. If the infection is persistent or recurrent in spite of the treatment, then the discharge from the ear may need to be obtained for a ear swab for culture test.
In terms of treatment, you need to clean the external discharge with a cloth and do not insert anything into the ear to clean. You will be prescribed ear drops, which contains an antibiotic and a steroid, which is required to suppress the swelling. Now, these drops need to be used about 3-4 times a day for about 5-7 days. Now, if the infection is causing a lot of swelling of the ear canal, then your doctor might insert a wick to allow the medication to reach deep into the canal. Now, with treatment, symptoms usually improve in 1-3 days and they resolve in 5 days. Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be given in prescribed doses for the pain. Now, very severe infections involving the eardrum or the skin surrounding the ear may warrant an oral antibiotic use.
Keeping the ear canal dry is the key to prevent occurrence of otitis externa by the following means - you can tilt your head to the side to allow water to drain out, wipe clean with a towel, do not insert ear buds or insert corners of the towel into the ear as it will push the water deeper, you may blow dry the ear from a distance with a hair dryer on cool and low setting, you can use cotton coated with petroleum jelly, which will act as a water repulsor and this will help to prevent water from entering the ear. You can cover your ears with a swim cap while swimming. You can prevent injury to the ear canal by not using ear buds to clear out the wax which is nothing but a natural protective layer that lines the ear canal and if it accumulates in excess have your doctor prescribe some ear drops and suction clean it. Avoid using ear plugs and educate children about the dangers of putting ear buds or any small foreign objects into the ear. You need to avoid products like hairsprays, shampoos or jewelry that may be causing an irritation to the ear.
Team Ovum Hospitals