Swimmer’s Ear a Common Summer Problem

Summer is here and so is a common summer problem—swimmer’s ear. According to the Centers for Disease Control, swimmer’s ear, also known as otitis externa, is an infection of the outer ear canal.

Swimmer’s ear can occur when water stays in the ear canal for an extended period. In other cases, regular swimming in chlorinated water can dry the ear canal and strip the skin from its natural protective barriers. In either case, this sets up the perfect environment for bacteria to grow in and infect the skin. Germs found in pools, hot tubs, lakes, ponds and other places where people swim are the most common sources of the bacteria that can cause the problem.

Swimmer’s ear cannot be spread from person to person, and it’s not the same as a middle ear infection. One way to tell if someone has swimmer’s ear is to wiggle the outer ear or ear lobe.  If it’s not painful or uncomfortable, then it’s probably NOT swimmer’s ear.

Symptoms of swimmer’s ear usually appear within a few days of swimming and include:

  • Itchiness inside the ear.
  • Redness and swelling of the ear.
  • Pain when the infected ear is tugged or when pressure is placed on the ear.
  • Pus draining from the infected ear.

Although anyone can get swimmer’s ear, it’s more common in children and can be very painful.  If you suspect you or someone you know has swimmer’s ear, see your healthcare professional as soon as possible. They may prescribe antibiotic drops to treat the problem.

To prevent swimmer’s ear, keep the person’s ears as dry as possible:

  • Use a towel to dry the ears well.
  • Wear a swimming cap over the ears.
  • After swimming, tilt the head at a 90-degree angle so that each ear is facing down, allowing water to drain out of the ear canal.
  • Pull the earlobe in different directions while the ear is facing down to help water drain out.
  • If there is still water left in the ears, use a hair dryer on the lowest heat/fan setting and hold it several inches from the ear. This can help move air in the ear canal and promote drying.
  • Don’t put objects in the ear to try to remove water, such as cotton swabs and don’t try to remove earwax. Earwax can actually help protect the ear canals from infection.

If you or your child frequently swims and has problems with swimmer’s ear, you might consider purchasing a pair of custom ear plugs. These can be a great option for kids who have pressure equalization tubes, but who still need to hear their parents while swimming.

These plugs are custom devices and require an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist who can take ear impressions and order them. This ensures the best fit for the individual.

For more information about custom hearing protection, visit hearingyourbest.com.

Schedule an appointment with a doctoral-level audiologist.