By: David Chait, M.D.
Swimmer’s ear is a painful condition that occurs when moisture trapped in the ear canal becomes infected.
Symptoms of swimmer’s ear may be mild at first but can quickly progress. The symptoms may include:
- Discomfort or pain
- Redness inside ear
- Excessive itching of the ear
- Fluid drainage from the ear
- Fullness feeling inside of ear
- Decreased or muffled hearing
How Did I Get Swimmer’s Ear?
The outer ear has glands that form a thin, water-repellant film on the skin inside the ear. Excessive swimming can cause the wax coating to diminish, allowing water to enter and remain. Although called ‘swimmer’s ear’, swimming is not the only cause. Prolonged exposure to a moist environment, humid weather and heavy perspiration can also cause the condition. In addition, several other factors may cause swimmer’s ear and can include:
- Skin conditions or allergies
- Improper cleaning of the ear
- Swimming in contaminated water
- Scratches inside the ear canal from a cotton swab or object
- Too frequent cleaning of the ear
Swimmer’s ear can be prevented. It is important to swim wisely and remember to take days off from the activity. Boys Town National Research Hospital recommends the following to help prevent swimmer’s ear:
- Keep ears as dry as possible
- Avoid putting foreign objects into ear
- Prevent irritants such as soaps, bubble baths, hair sprays and shampoo from entering the ear
- Remove water from the ear by gently drying ears with towel and wiggling head from side to side
- Place two drops of white vinegar in the ear canal once a week when swimming frequently
When to See a Doctor
Swimmer’s ear can be treated. If you have symptoms of this condition, schedule an appointment with a physician to determine the cause and to receive proper treatment. A physician may clean the ear using ear drops, possibly prescribe infection fighting ear drops and suggest pain relievers.
It is important to not let swimmer’s ear progress. Temporary hearing loss, widespread infection, tissue and cartilage damage can occur if left untreated.