Clinically known as Otitis Externa, Swimmer’s Ear is an inflammatory condition/infection of the outer ear through to the ear drum.
It is a very common problem and can affect anyone at any age. It is usually linked to water exposure or excessive cleaning of the ear canal.
The ear canal is lined with skin, containing glands that produce wax. When bacteria or fungi find a means of entry (through a break or abrasion in the skin), the perfect environment exists for an infection to thrive. This can be caused by:
- Water entering the ear through swimming or showering, and not draining out
- Mechanical damage to the ear (such as from cleaning) that damages the skin and allows bacteria to enter.
- Chemical irritation of the skin caused by hair colours, hairspray or shampoo
- A blocked hair follicle in the ear skin
- Having narrow ear canals
- Skin conditions such as eczema and/or dermatitis
- A deeper infection in the middle-ear can trigger an infection in the outer ear
- Diabetes – believe it or not, diabetes can change the chemical makeup of earwax, making it a more hospitable environment for bacteria & fungi.
Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear include:
- Redness and inflammation
- Pain in the ear
- Ear tenderness and sensitivity to touch
- Reduced or poor quality hearing
- Tinnitus or noises in the ear (such as humming or buzzing).
- Offensive smelling yellow or green pus-discharge from the ear
Some people, especially those with narrow ear canals, can experience Swimmer’s Ear on a regular basis, which can be very frustrating and bothersome.
It is important to treat Swimmer’s ear as there can be some serious complications if the infection is not cleared. The infection can spread into the bones and cartilage of the face and skull and even infect the cranial nerves and brain. This is a serious condition and requires immediate medical attention.
Treatment for Swimmer’s ear aims to keep the ear canal dry and clean. Sometimes this will involve light suction of the collected fluid, followed by an ointment, ear drop or course of antibiotic treatment. Antibiotics are not always required, but if your doctor prescribes them, make sure you finish the full course of tablets.
Pain killers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen can relieve some of the discomfort.
Swimmer’s ear can be avoided by making an effort to keep the ear canal dry. This can be achieved by:
- Using a swimming cap or shower cap
- Using earplugs in water
- Shaking out excess water after swimming or showering
- Using a hairdryer if they still feel wet inside.
- Talk to your pharmacist about ear cleaning drops
- Avoid cleaning your ears with earbuds or your fingernails, as this can easily damage the delicate skin in the ear canal.