Swimmer’s ear has a catchy name, but it can really cause problems for both kids and adults, particularly in the summer months when people head to the pool and the beach more often.
What is swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear, also known at otitis externa, is a common infection of the outer ear canal, the channel that carries sounds from the outside to the eardrum. Swimmer’s ear can be caused by several different types of bacteria or fungi, but it’s generally easy to treat by your healthcare provider.
Who develops swimmer’s ear?
You don’t have to be a Michael Phelps to develop swimmer’s ear. Actually, swimmer’s ear can even develop in situations where there is no contact with water. Anything that irritates or creates minor cuts in the delicate skin lining of the ear canal can make it easier for bacteria or fungi to develop. Sometimes excessive or improper cleaning with cotton swabs, contact with soil or scratching the ear may lead to this type of ear infection.
Swimmer’s ear, however, is most common in people who spend a lot of time in the water, and it occurs more frequently during the summer months. Water that remains in the ear after swimming is the ideal moist environment for bacteria or fungus to reproduce.
What are the symptoms of swimmer’s ear?
The primary symptoms of swimmer’s ear are pain and discomfort inside the ear. A sensation of pressure or blockage of the ear usually accompanies the pain. The pain gets more intense as the infection advances.
Redness and swelling of the ear can also be a sign that an infection has developed. Sometimes lymph nodes in front and back of the ear or at the jaw and neck may swell and become tender.
You may also notice a thin clear fluid coming from the ear that becomes whitish and pus-like as the infection advances. Hearing may be affected temporarily when the discharge from the ear canal blocks sounds from reaching the middle ear.
How is swimmer’s ear treated?
Treatment is based on the severity of the infection and degree of pain. Your healthcare provider will likely prescribe special eardrops to be given several times a day for about a week. These eardrops contain antibiotics to clear the infection and may also include a steroid agent to reduce swelling. When the ear canal infection, or swimmer’s ear, is severe, oral antibiotics and prescription pain medicine are used. Once treatment has started, your child or teen with swimmer’s ear should begin to feel better in about two days and heal in about a week.
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