What is swimmer’s ear?
"Swimmer’s ear" (acuteotitis externa) is a painful inflammation, irritation, or infection of the outer ear and ear canal.
What are the symptoms of swimmer’s ear?
Symptoms usually are mild to moderate pain and itching that worsens when you tug on your outer ear. You may feel that your ear is blocked or full. In bad cases, swimmer’s ear can cause fever, drainage, or severe pain that can spread to the side of the head, face, and neck. You may notice swollen lymph nodes around the ear and impaired hearing on the affected side.
What are the causes of swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear develops when water gets trapped in the ear canal and bacteria or fungi normally found there in small numbers begin to multiply. This can happen when you’ve been swimming or from showering or bathing. Swimmer’s ear can also occur as a result of using cotton swabs to clean your ear, contact with excessive bacteria in hot tubs or polluted water, and from irritation by chemicals in hairsprays or hair dyes. It can also develop if the skin of your ear canal is damaged after irrigation to remove earwax, if you have a cut in the skin of the ear canal, and from skin conditions such as eczema or seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff), which can involve the ear canal.
How is swimmer’s ear diagnosed?
Doctors usually can diagnose swimmer’s ear by examining your ear canal with an instrument called an otoscope. Signs of infection are redness, swelling and scaling and flakes of skin in your ear canal. If the doctor can’t visualize your eardrum, he or she may clear the ear canal with a suction device or an instrument called an ear curette. Laboratory tests of discharge or debris from your ear may be needed if the infection doesn’t clear up in response to treatment. You may need to see an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) if your eardrum is damaged.
What is the conventional treatment of Swimmer’s ear?
According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology (AAO), swimmer’s ear can be treated with an acidic solution you can make yourself by mixing rubbing alcohol and white vinegar in equal proportions and introducing this compound into the affected ear with a medicine dropper; blot up any excess with a tissue (this is also a good preventive measure). The solution removes water from the ear canal and restores the normal pH of the tissue.
If you have fever, severe pain, or drainage, it is best to see your doctor to make sure you don’t have a perforated eardrum (even in mild cases the AAO advises checking with your doctor if you’ve ever had a perforated ear drum, or have ever had ear surgery). For more serious cases, you may need eardrops to restore the ear’s normal antibacterial environment, to reduce inflammation, or antibiotic or antifungal eardrops for bacterial or fungal infections.
If your ear canal is swollen closed, you may need an ear wick, a small sponge placed within the ear canal to help make sure the drops are adequately distributed.
If you have pain in your ear, you may be advised to take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil) or naproxen (Aleve). Stronger medication may be prescribed for severe pain.
What therapies does Dr. Weil recommend for swimmer’s ear?
Dr. Weil believes that the best way to deal with swimmer’s ear is to avoid getting it in the first place. Wear wax or silicone earplugs when you swim to keep water out of your ears. If water does get into your ears, ear-nose-and- throat specialists advise drying them out gently with a hairdryer. Dr. Weil suggests trying to get in the habit of shaking your head when you get out of the pool to expel trapped water. He prefers to use the alcohol-vinegar solution described above for treatment of swimmer’s ear.