The medical condition in which the outer ear canal is infected such that the infection runs from the eardrums to the outer portion of the head is known as swimmer’s ear. Otitis externa is the alternate name for swimmer’s ear. The infection results from bacteria that invade the skin inside the ear canal.
Swimmer’s ear is usually caused by water that remains in the ears after swimming, which becomes a moist breeding ground for bacterial growth and subsequent infection. That is how the infection gets its name. The infection can also be caused by putting foreign objects in the ear, such as ear swabs or one’s own finger.
Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include redness in the ear combined with itching in the ear canal, along with a fluid that is odorless and colorless being drained out of the ear. Discomfort is also experienced with either a feeling of pulling on the outer ear or a pushing sensation on the tragus, which is in front of the ear. These symptoms may increase from mild, moderate, and advanced as the infection progresses.
Causes of swimmer’s ear
The causative agent for swimmer’s ear is bacterial growth that normally occurs in moist areas in water and soil. In rare cases, the infection could be caused by a virus or a fungus.
The ear is built with its own natural defenses, including the slope of the ear which is in a downward direction to help drain out water. The ear glands also secrete cerumen, which is a waxy substance that protects the ear.
When these defenses are overwhelmed due to the following factors, swimmer’s ear infection develops:
● Presence of excess moisture in the ear due to swimming, perspiration, or humid weather
● Abrasions or scratches present in the ear canal caused by ear buds, headphones, or scratching with one’s finger
● Sensitive reactions to jewelry or hair products.
Treatment for swimmer’s ear
Swimmer’s ear, if ignored, can elevate to serious conditions such as:
● Temporary hearing loss
● Chronic otitis externa, which is a prolonged infection
● Cellulitis, which is an infection of the deep tissue
● Damage of the bone and cartilage
Treatment for swimmer’s ear starts with cleaning of the outer ear canal with eardrops to clear the debris, flaky skin, and earwax so that the eardrops reach the desired location.
Eardrops are the recommended treatment for swimmer’s ear. These drops contain the following ingredients:
● Antibiotics that fight the bacteria
● Steroid that reduces inflammation
● Acidic solution that restores the antibacterial environment of the ear
● Antifungal medication that fights fungal infection
Along with eardrops, certain pain medications are also prescribed to relieve the discomfort and pain. These are ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen sodium.
Patients are advised to either use cool drops and lie down with the infected ear facing up or ask for assistance when administering the eardrops.
Further measures to help speed up the treatment include avoiding air travel, staying away from swimming, and avoiding the use of earplugs or headphones.