Health Care and Swimmer's Ear

- April 22, 2013
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During the warmer months of the year, the popular activity with many people is to go swimming. In addition to being a fun way to relax, you can get lots of exercise and great physical stamina from participating in this great water sport. But sometimes, you can experience problems with a common infection in the ear, especially during the summer, called Swimmer’s Ear—an inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal. The medical term for swimmer's ear is otitis externa.

Occurring commonly in the outer ear canal, which runs from your eardrum to the outside of your head, swimmer’s ear is often brought on by water that remains in your ear after swimming, creating a moist environment that aids bacterial growth, according to the Mayo Clinic. Putting fingers, cotton swabs or other objects in your ears also can lead to swimmer's ear by damaging the thin layer of skin lining your ear canal.

Swimmer's ear symptoms are usually mild at first, but they may get worse if your infection isn't treated or spreads, according to the Mayo Clinic, at this site: . Doctors often classify swimmer's ear according to mild, moderate, and advanced stages of progression.

1. Mild signs and symptoms:

• Itching in your ear canal
• Slight redness inside your ear
• Mild discomfort that's made worse by pulling on your outer ear (pinna, or auricle) or pushing on the little "bump" (tragus) in front of your ear
• Some drainage of clear, odorless fluid

2. Moderate progression:

• More intense itching
• Increasing pain
• More extensive redness in your ear
• Excessive fluid drainage
• Discharge of pus
• Feeling of fullness inside your ear and partial blockage of your ear canal by swelling, fluid and debris
• Decreased or muffled hearing

3. Advanced progression :

• Severe pain that may radiate to your face, neck or side of your head
• Complete blockage of your ear canal
• Redness or swelling of your outer ear
• Swelling in the lymph nodes in your neck
• Fever

According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), ear drops containing antibiotics are usually given, usually for 10 to 14 days. If the ear canal is very swollen, a wick may be applied in the ear to allow the drops to travel to the end of the canal. Your doctor or nurse can show you how to do this. Other treatments may include:

• Antibiotics taken by mouth if you have a middle ear infection or infection that spreads beyond the ear
• Corticosteroids to reduce itching and inflammation
• Pain medication, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
• Vinegar (acetic acid) ear drops

People with chronic swimmer's ear may need long-term or repeated treatments to avoid complications. Placing something warm against the ears may reduce pain. More details can be found at this website: .

According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, other factors that may contribute to swimmer’s ear include:

• Contact with excessive bacteria that may be present in hot tubs or polluted water
• Excessive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs or anything else
• Contact with certain chemicals such as hair spray or hair dye (Avoid this by placing cotton balls in your ears when using these products.)
• Damage to the skin of the ear canal following water irrigation to remove wax
• A cut in the skin of the ear canal
• Other skin conditions affecting the ear canal, such as eczema or seborrhea

If left untreated, complications resulting from swimmer’s ear may include:

--Hearing loss. When the infection clears up, hearing usually returns to normal.
--Recurring ear infections (chronic otitis externa). Without treatment, infection can continue.
--Bone and cartilage damage (malignant otitis externa). Ear infections when not treated can spread to the base of your skull, brain, or cranial nerves. Diabetics and older adults are at higher risk for such dangerous complications. To evaluate you for swimmer’s ear, your doctor will look for redness and swelling in your ear canal. Your doctor also may take a sample of any abnormal fluid or discharge in your ear to test for the presence of bacteria or fungus (ear culture) if you have recurrent or severe infections. More info can be found at their site: .

Swimmer’s ear is treatable. Other than being irritating and problematic in its initial stages, it can be properly diagnosed by your doctor and easily resolved. Just don’t delay taking action on any infection of any kind. Remember, your hearing is a vitally important function of life. Don’t abuse it.

Until next time.

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