Swimmer’s ear is an infection in the outer ear canal, which runs from your eardrum to the outside of your head. It’s often brought on by water that remains in your ear after swimming, creating a moist environment that aids bacterial growth.
Swimmer’s ear is also known as otitis externa. The most common cause of this infection is bacteria invading the skin inside your ear canal. Usually, you can treat swimmer’s ear with eardrops. Prompt treatment can help prevent complications and more-serious infections.
Symptoms of Swimmer’s Ear
Swimmer’s ear symptoms are usually mild at first, but they may get worse if your infection isn’t treated or spreads. Doctors often classify swimmer’s ear according to mild, moderate and advanced stages of progression.
- Drainage of clear, odorless fluid.
- Itching in your ear canal.
- Redness inside your ear.
- Mild discomfort.
- More intense itching.
- More intense pain,
- Increased redness.
- A lot of drainage from the ear.
- Draining pus.
- Feeling of fullness inside your ear and partial blockage of your ear canal by swelling, fluid, and debris.
- Decreased or muffled hearing.
- Redness or swelling of your outer ear.
- Severe swelling that blocks your canal.
- Swelling in your lymph nodes.
- Severe pain that may radiate to your face, neck or side of your head.
If you are feeling any of these symptoms, even if they are mild, come to Rio Grande Urgent Care.
Follow these tips to avoid swimmer’s ear:
- Keep your ears dry. Dry your ears thoroughly after exposure to moisture from swimming or bathing. Dry only your outer ear, wiping it slowly and gently with a soft towel or cloth. Tip your head to the side to help water drain from your ear canal.
- At-home preventive treatment. If you know you don’t have a punctured eardrum, you can use homemade preventive eardrops before and after swimming. A mixture of 1 part white vinegar to 1 part rubbing alcohol may help promote drying and prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi that can cause swimmer’s ear. Pour 1 teaspoon (about 5 milliliters) of the solution into each ear and let it drain back out. Similar over-the-counter solutions may be available at your drugstore.
- Swim wisely. Watch for signs alerting swimmers to high bacterial counts and don’t swim on those days.
- Avoid putting foreign objects in your ear. Never attempt to scratch an itch or dig out earwax with items such as a cotton swab, paper clip or hairpin. Using these items can pack material deeper into your ear canal, irritate the thin skin inside your ear or break the skin.
- Protect your ears from irritants. Put cotton balls in your ears while applying products such as hair sprays and hair dyes.
- Use caution after an ear infection or surgery. If you’ve recently had an ear infection or ear surgery, talk to your doctor before you go swimming.