Ear Problems (Part 2): Overcoming Swimmer’s Ear (Otitis Externa)


Swimmer’s Ear is an infection in the outer part of the ear, in the canal. If you have an ear ache, one way to tell if you have a Swimmer’s Ear is to gently tug on your ear lobe, if that increases the pain and discomfort, then you likely have an infection, which has caused the canal walls to redden and swell, stiffening so that the tug hurts.

Swimmer’s Ear can be caused by swimming in polluted water, a scratch in your ear that gets infected, or a foreign object that gets stuck. The infection is usually bacterial but can sometimes be caused by a fungus.

Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear Include:

  • Slight to severe earache
  • Redness
  • Swelling in the canal
  • Itching
  • Drainage
  • Possible shedding of the skin or scaly-ness

Ways to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear:

  • Limit the amount of time that you use ear buds (headsets that sit inside the ear) bacterial growth increases while using them as they create a closed, warm and moist place in your ear.
  • Keep your ear dry, especially if you are prone to/have chronic outer ear infections. This means shaking out water by tilting your head, gently drying your ear lobe with a towel, etc. Other ways to keep your ear dry include applying a drop of vegetable oil in the ear before swimming, and/or applying a drop of an equal alcohol/vinegar mix in each ear after swimming.
  • Do not use ear plugs while swimming, while some people recommend them to keep water out, if water gets in (and they aren’t air/water tight seals) it’s kept in as much as other water is kept out, creating a sealed, moist place for bacteria to grow.
  • Limit the things you put in your ears, including the above mentioned ear buds and ear plugs, and cotton swabs, which can scratch your ear, and other similar objects.

What To Do If You Have Swimmer’s Ear:

  • See your doctor, who may prescribe you an antibiotic, and possibly steroids for the swelling to drop in your ear.
  • Place something warm (such as a washcloth) on the ear to soothe the pain.
  • Avoid touching the ear and make sure you keep it clean of any drainage to reduce the risk of the infection spreading, which is a possible complication.
  • Diabetics are more prone to have Otitis Externa turn into Malignant Otitis Externa, a more serious ear infection. If you are diabetic and you have Swimmer’s Ear, make sure to see and doctor and then monitor your symptoms closely to make sure there’s improvement.

After a few days of treatment, if you don’t see signs of improvement, or symptoms worsen make sure you see your doctor to prevent further complications and symptoms.


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