Swimmer’s ear is an ear infection that affects the outer ear and ear canal. Medically known as otitis externa, the main symptom of swimmer’s ear is pain in the affected ear.
Other symptoms can include itching, redness, discharge from the ear, and difficulty hearing.
What causes swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear is usually caused by bacteria or fungi that enter the ear canal through a cut or break in the skin. Otitis externa is more prevalent in people who swim often or have their ears constantly exposed to water.
This condition is not just limited to swimmers. You can get it even if you don’t go swimming. In most situations, otitis externa is caused when moisture builds up or settles in the ear canal.
This means you can acquire it by taking a bath or a shower, washing your hair, or being in a damp or humid atmosphere.
Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear
The main symptom of swimmer’s ear is pain in the affected ear. This pain can be throbbing or constant.
It may get worse when you move your jaw, such as when you talk, chew, or yawn. Other symptoms can include:
- Itching in the ear
- Redness in the ear
- Fluid drainage from the ear
- Temporary hearing loss
- Swelling in the lymph nodes in front of or behind the ear
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor right away. If the condition is not treated promptly, it can lead to more serious complications.
Why does swimmer’s ear hurt more at night?
Due to low cortisol levels, pain may be more prevalent at night. Lying down also causes drainage to backflow into the middle ear, resulting in pressure on the eardrum and discomfort.
Even resting an ear on a pillow can be agonizing; and it’s always worse without distractions throughout the day.
Diagnosing swimmer’s ear
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history during the initial assessment. Your ear will be physically examined using a lighted instrument known as an otoscope.
A sample of the fluid from your ear may also need to be tested for bacteria or fungi. This is done with a cotton swab or by looking at the fluid under a microscope.
Other conditions that might be mistaken with swimmer’s ear include skin allergies, middle ear infections, other skin diseases (such as eczema), or fluid in the ear.
How can you tell the difference between an ear infection and swimmer’s ear?
Swimmer’s ear pain is felt in the outer ear canal, or the region surrounding the ear opening, and gets worse when you pull on your earlobe.
Pain in a middle ear infection is usually felt in the inner ears near the eardrum, which can make sleeping difficult.
Treatment of swimmer’s ear
Swimmer’s ear is usually treated with a combination of ear drops and self-care.
Ear drops can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
Self-care measures can also help relieve swimmer’s ear symptoms. These include:
- Applying a warm, wet cloth to the affected ear
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Avoiding swimming or getting water in the affected ear until the condition has cleared up
Do I need antibiotics for swimmer’s ear?
The typical duration of ear drops usage takes 7 to 14 days. Swimmer’s ear seldom requires oral antibiotics.
To relieve discomfort and swelling, OTC pain medicines such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) may be prescribed. To decrease itching and inflammation, corticosteroids may be used.
Does Swimmer’s ear go away on its own?
Swimmer’s ear is a very common problem that affects many people. In most cases, it will fully heal on its own in mild forms. Due to the discomfort, most sufferers will seek therapy; the treatments are quite successful at reducing symptoms.
Preventing swimmer’s ear
You can help prevent swimmer’s ear by keeping your ears dry. This means:
- Wearing earplugs or a swim cap when you swim
- Wiping your ears with a towel after you swim
- Avoiding putting objects in your ear, such as fingers, cotton swabs, or earbuds
- Using a hairdryer on the lowest setting to dry your ears after swimming or bathing
Swimmer’s ear risk factors
There are several things that can increase your risk of swimmer’s ear. These include:
- Having a history of swimmer’s ear
- Swimming in dirty or contaminated water
- Having skin conditions, such as eczema or psoriasis, that affect the skin in your ear canal
- Trauma to the ear canal, such as from picking at your ears or using cotton swabs
- Having a weakened immune system
Swimmer’s ear is usually a minor condition that clears up on its own. However, in rare cases, this condition can lead to more serious problems which include:
- Permanent hearing loss
- Bone and cartilage damage in the ear canal
- Blood poisoning (sepsis)
If you feel any pain or discomfort in your ear, it’s important to see an audiologist and have your ears checked.
Swimmer’s ear is a very common condition, but it can lead to serious complications if it’s not treated properly.
When should I see a doctor for swimmer’s ear?
Call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Ear pain with or without a fever
- Long-term itching of the ear or ear canal
- Hearing loss or decreased hearing in one or both ears
- Drainage from the ears
- Feeling that your ear is plugged or full
- Tenderness of the lymph nodes in your neck
Hearing Care Provider in Rockledge, FL
Harbor City Hearing Solutions offers comprehensive hearing care for various hearing concerns such as swimmer’s ear, hearing loss, ear infections, and more.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment!