Acute external otitis is an infection of the outer ear canal – the portion outside the eardrum. Most people recognize it by its common name – swimmer’s ear. It is termed “swimmer’s ear” because it quite often develops due to liquid staying in the ears after swimming; this creates a damp environment which promotes the growth of microbes. But moisture isn’t the only source. An outer ear infection may also be the result of harming the sensitive skin lining the ear canal by poking fingers, Q-tips or other objects in the ear. Thankfully swimmer’s ear is readily treated. If untreated, swimmer’s ear may cause serious complications therefore it is vital that you identify the signs and symptoms of the condition.
If the ear’s innate protection mechanisms are overloaded, the result may be swimmer’s ear. Excess moisture in the ear, scratches to the lining of the ear canal, and sensitivity reactions can all provide an advantageous environment for the growth of bacteria, and result in infection. Activities that raise your chance of developing swimmer’s ear include swimming (particularly in untreated water such as lakes), aggressive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs, use of devices that sit inside the ear such as “ear buds” or hearing aids, and allergies.
The most common symptoms of swimmer’s ear are itching in the ear canal, mild discomfort that is made worse by pulling on your ear, a slight redness inside the ear, and mild drainage of an odorless, clear liquid. Severe itching, heightened pain and discharge of pus indicate a moderate case of swimmer’s ear. In extreme cases, swimmer’s ear can result in severe pain that radiates to other parts of your face, neck, or head, swelling or redness of the outer ear or lymph nodes, fever, and blockage of the ear canal. If untreated, complications from swimmer’s ear can be quite serious. Complications might include short-term hearing loss
, long-term ear infections, deep tissue infections which may spread to other parts of the body, and bone or cartilage loss. Therefore if you experience even the milder indicators of swimmer’s ear, it is a smart idea to see your health care provider immediately.
Doctors usually diagnose swimmer’s ear after a visual examination with an otoscope. The doctor will also check at the same time to see if there is any damage to the eardrum itself. Physicians typically treat swimmer’s ear by first cleaning the ears thoroughly, and then by prescribing eardrops to remove the infection. If the infection is serious, your doctor can also prescribe oral antibiotics to help combat it.
Just remember these 3 tips to avoid contracting swimmer’s ear.
- Dry your ears completely after bathing or swimming.
- Avoid swimming in untreated, open bodies of water.
- Don’t place any foreign objects in your ears in an effort to clean them.