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Summer vacations are meant to be fun and relaxing, a time to forget your troubles, soak up the sun, and splash around in a pool of cool water or maybe even the ocean. But as you’re splashing around and having a great time, don’t forget about your ears! Taking care of your ears can help prevent a painful condition commonly known as ‘swimmer’s ear.
Woman in Pool

What is Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear is technically called Acute Otitis Externa and it is an ear condition that is caused by inflammation, irritation, or infection of the ear. Though this condition can affect anyone, it’s commonly found in swimmers because water can easily get trapped inside their ears when they’re underwater.

What are the Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear?

These are the symptoms to look for if you think you might be suffering from swimmer’s ear:

  • Pain inside your ear that gets worse when you tug on your outer ear.
  • Itching inside your ear.
  • Blockage sensation in your ear.
  • Fever.
  • Decreased hearing.
  • Ear drainage.
  • Redness or swelling of the skin around the ear.
  • Swollen lymph nodes around the ear or neck.

Not all of these symptoms will necessarily be present. The best course of action is to visit a specialist in otolaryngology, who will be able to properly diagnose swimmer’s ear.

[Related: Sinus Infections from Swimming]

What Causes Swimmer’s Ear?

Swimmer’s ear is caused by the inflammation, irritation, or infection in the ear. The most common sources are:

  • When water from pools, baths, showers, etc. gets trapped inside the ear canal, bacteria that usually live in the skin start to multiply faster, causing an infection.
  • Water which is polluted or has excessive bacteria.
  • Contact with chemicals like the ones used in hair spray or hair dye.
  • Excessive cleaning of the ear.
  • A cut inside the ear.
  • Other skin conditions that affect the ear canal, such as eczema.

Kids in the Pool

How to Prevent Swimmer’s Ear?

Keeping your ears clean and dry can help prevent swimmer’s ear. Some ways to do that are to:

  • Try to keep your ears dry during swimming or bathing.
  • Wear earplugs when swimming.
  • Dry your ears with a towel after swimming or bathing.
  • Make an appointment with an ENT (otolaryngologist) to get your ears cleaned periodically.
  • Avoid using cotton swabs to clean your ears or remove earwax. Using cotton swabs can actually pack earwax deeper into your ear canal, as well as remove the layer of earwax that protects your ears. This can lead to irritation of the ear cannel and infection.

How to Treat Swimmer’s Ear?

When you have swimmer’s ear, the first thing to do is visit a trusted ENT for proper diagnosis. A trained ENT will be able to prescribe a course of treatment depending on the severity of the infection in your ear.

Some of the most common Swimmer’s Ear Treatments:

  • Careful cleaning of the ear canal
  • Use of ear drops that inhibit bacterial growth and reduce inflammation.
  • Use of ear drops with mildly acidic solutions to stop infections in the early stages.

Make sure you can enjoy the warm Houston summer to its fullest by taking steps to prevent swimmer’s ear. However, if you start feeling any of the symptoms described above, visit a trained otolaryngologist as soon as you are able to. Dr. Pasha is a Houston otolaryngologist who has experience in treating ear problems in both adults and children. Schedule a consultation today!