Swimmer's Ear 101

With summer finally here, many people are spending their days relaxing at the beach or nearby pool. Because people will be spending more time in and around the water, it’s important to practice safe swimming. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), swimmer’s ear accounts for nearly 2.4 million health care visits a year. Knowing what swimmer’s ear is and how to prevent it will help you and your ears have a safer, more enjoyable summer.

The Signs and Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear

Swimmer’s ear is the common name for a painful infection, inflammation or irritation that is caused when water gets trapped in the ear after swimming. As a result, bacteria or fungus may grow, causing itching and discomfort. This condition should be treated in its early stages while the impact is still minor. Doing so helps to relieve the pain and lessens the chance of hearing loss or further infection.

Swimmer’s ear is usually very easy to detect. Here are just a few of the more common symptoms:

  • Itchiness inside your ear and pain that gets worse when you pull on your outer ear.
  • Feeling like your ear is full or blocked; you could experience drainage from the ear.
  • Fever, decreased hearing and severe pain that might spread to your face, neck or head.
  • Pain with movement of your head, even when you chew.
 

Swimmer’s ear can lead to temporary hearing loss that usually resolves after the infection has cleared up. If left untreated, you might experience recurring infections and even permanent bone or cartilage damage.

Treatment

Fortunately, treatment for swimmer’s ear is quite simple. Here’s what it involves:

  • Ear drops prescribed by your doctor that get rid of the bacteria or fungi and reduce inflammation.
  • Oral antibiotics might also be given if the infection goes beyond the outer ear. It is important to follow up with your doctor as directed. In most cases, the infection will be cleared up in a week to 10 days.
 

Prevention

If you want to reduce the likelihood of getting swimmer’s ear and the potential temporary hearing loss that can accompany it, here’s what you need to keep in mind:

  • Keep your ears as dry as possible when you swim, shower or use hot tubs. Custom earplugs can be very helpful in this regard.
  • After leaving the water, dry your ears thoroughly with a towel and/or dryer.
  • Be careful not to swim in contaminated water.
  • Be sure that any pools where you swim are monitored for proper chlorine content and pH.
 

If you think you’re experiencing swimmer’s ear, or it seems to happen to you often, seek assistance from your physician.