Is Swimmer’s Ear Causing You Pain?
If you are experiencing inflammation of the outer ear and ear canal, it is likely due to an outer ear infection, clinically known as otitis externa and commonly known as Swimmer’s Ear.
Outer ear infections can come on suddenly or even be self-inflicted. The condition gets its name from the situation where bacteria grows in the moist ear of someone who has gone swimming, but any time the outer ear canals are unable to protect against bacterial growth, an outer ear infection can occur. An ear’s natural defenses can be affected by excess moisture, scratches or abrasions, or the skin’s sensitivity to items like jewelry or products like hair spray.
For swimmers, surfers and boaters the cause can be different. Water that becomes trapped in the ear canal collects and becomes the perfect place for bacteria to grow. Although the kind of infection can range from mild to severe there are very common symptoms to look out for.
Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear
Depending on the severity of the infection, the symptoms of an outer ear infection can range from slight discomfort to conditions that require immediate medical intervention.
Some of the more mild symptoms include:
- Pain – The first thing you’ll notice is an intense pain that peaks when your ear is touched. Doctors typically test this by tugging on your tragus; the little tag sticking out in front of the opening to your ear.
- Itching in the ear canal – You will feel a frustrating itch on the inside of your ear. As we mentioned above, physical damage can make the ear prone to more infection so try your best not to stick something in there!
- Drainage of fluid/watery discharge – This discharge can be watery or yellowish in color and smells terrible in the case of the latter.
- Some decreased or muffled hearing – The inflammation caused by the infection can actually cause a blockage in your ear canal. This can also be caused by the aforementioned ear fluids.
When left untreated, more serious symptoms include:
Short and Long Term Effects of Swimmer’s Ear
The most important thing is to address the infection. If it’s a really mild case and your ear hasn’t been damaged in any way then staying out of the water could return things to normal. Creams and ear drops can help with a moderate infection and should be used as indicated. The best form of dealing with swimmer’s ear though is prevention.
If steps aren’t taken to address the infection, as all infections do, it can get a bit carried away. Primarily, the infection can spread to other parts of your body, complicating things further. More common to elderly diabetics but still a risk anyway, the flesh around the ear will necrotize. This can make its way through your ear canal and start to affect the nerves possibly affecting your breathing or causing facial paralysis.
Preventative Tips for Avoiding Swimmer’s Ear Infections
Here are some great tips to help reduce your risk of creating an ideal environment that can lead to a swimmer’s ear infection:
- Try to use a bathing cap, earplugs and be discerning when it comes to where you swim.
- Make sure to dry your ears well to prevent leaving water for bacteria to grow (but remember to be gentle!) and turn your head from side to side so the water can drain out.
- We all hate ear wax but it’s really there to protect us. Try your best not to jam things into your ear and be gentle when cleaning.
Swimmer’s Ear Infection Treatments for Houston Residents
Typically, the early stages of Swimmer’s Ear can be easily treated with medication, but if the infection spreads or intensifies, more specialized treatments will be necessary. At Houston Sinus & Allergy, our experienced ear specialist Dr. Nguyen can examine your condition and determine the severity, and which level of treatment would be most effective.