How to treat swimmer’s ear

What is swimmer’s ear?

The reason this affliction is called “swimmer’s ear” is because it occurs very often in swimmers since they spend so much time underwater. It’s likely you’ve experienced swimmer’s ear once in your life and it wasn’t anything too serious besides some itching in your ear canal that lasted a day or two. But, swimmer’s ear can start off mild and become something quite severe if not treated properly.

So, why use the term hygiene? Are we talking about being clean while sleeping? Well, that’s part of it, but it’s more So, how does swimmer’s ear happen exactly? Ears have a natural defense mechanism against standing fluids and subsequent bacterial growth within the ear canal. The outer ear is the first line of defense, acting as a bodyguard stopping any foreign objects from entering the ear canal. The next line of defense is a healthy layer of earwax that lines the ear canal to keep liquids from sitting with its waxy texture, by way of creating a space for bacteria to grow.

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:

  • Itching in the ear canal
  • Slight redness of the ear canal
  • Clear and odorless drainage from the ear canal
  • Slight pain when touching the ear itself
  • Partial blockage of the ear canal with a feeling of fullness 
  • Decreased or muffled hearing
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes or neck
  • Fever and severe pain (this is when you need to see a doctor)

Complications with swimmer’s ear

If you have any of the aforementioned symptoms, it’s best to get ahead of swimmer’s ear before it becomes a more serious bacterial infection. You never want to probe your ear canal with an object (like a Q-tip) as it could push bacteria further into the ear and worsen the problem. If swimmer’s ear doesn’t resolve itself and you’ve tried over-the-counter treatments like drops and hot compresses, further complications could ensue, such as:

  • More wide-spread infection beyond the ear canal and into other parts of the body depending on how far and where the infection spreads
  • Deep tissue infection in the connective tissues of the skin
  • Long-term infection is when an infection persists for three months or longer
  • Bone and cartilage damage from infection that causes severe pain
  • Temporary hearing loss or muffled hearing that interferes with everyday life

While it’s hard to know if or when swimmer’s ear can happen, there are some preventative measures that can be taken to try and avoid it.

How to prevent swimmer’s ear

People have different sizes of ear canals, varying thickness of earwax, damaged or vulnerable ear drums and other medical conditions that might make them more susceptible to swimmer’s ear. Factors that can increase a person’s chances of getting swimmer’s ear include:

  • Use of ear devices like hearing aids and earpods that are not properly cleaned and stored 
  • Inserting object into your ears for cleaning purposes – only the outer ear should be cleaned with cotton swabs or Q-tips
  • Exposure to contaminated water with high bacterial levels such as a lake, ocean, or unkempt swimming pool or hot tub
  • Prolonged exposure to moisture and/or water like in humid climates or like its namesake implies – swimming with the ears underwater for long periods of time

Swimmer’s ear is quite common but it’s important to manage the symptoms and keep an eye on the symptoms so it doesn’t become a bacterial infection in need of seeing a doctor. However, if you do need to see a doctor for something like swimmer’s ear, Breathe Clear Institute is here to help treat the condition and investigate further for other ENT issues that might be a causing factor.

Make an appointment with Breathe Clear Institute for any ear, nose, and throat issues

Persistent ear aches and issues can be signs of a more complicated condition within the ears. Our staff of highly trained professional ENT specialists can help diagnose and treat whatever your condition might be.