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Otitis Externa (Swimmer's Ear)

 

Also called swimmer's ear, otitis externa is an inflammation of the external ear canal. The condition is caused by fungi or bacteria. Water that gets trapped in the ear canal (such as what happens during swimming) encourages the growth of fungi and bacteria.

Swimmer's Ear

What causes swimmer's ear?

 

The most common cause of swimmer's ear is excessive wetness that occurs from swimming. Swimmer's ear can also be caused by the following:

 

  • being in warm, humid places
  • harsh cleaning of the ear canal
  • trauma to the ear canal
  • dry ear canal skin
  • a foreign body in the ear canal
  • lack of cerumen (ear wax)
  • eczema and other forms of dermatitis

 

What are the symptoms of swimmer's ear?

 

Although each individual may experience symptoms differently, here are the most common symptoms of swimmer's ear:

 

  • redness of the outer ear
  • itching in the ear
  • pain, especially when touching or wiggling the auricle
  • drainage from the ear
  • swollen glands in the neck
  • swollen ear canal
  • hearing loss

How is swimmer's ear diagnosed?

 

We start with a complete medical history and physical examination. An otoscope, a lighted instrument, helps us to examine the ear and make a diagnosis. The otoscope also enables us to see if there is an infection in the middle ear (otitis media). Although otitis media usually does not occur with swimmer's ear, some may have both types of infections. A culture of the ear drainage may be taken.

 

How is swimmer's ear treated?

 

When treated by a physician, swimmer's ear usually clears up within seven to 10 days. Treatment is based upon the following:

 

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the condition
  • tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the condition
  • your opinion or preference

 

Treatment may include:

 

  • antibiotic ear drops and/or oral antibiotics
  • corticosteroid ear drops (to help decrease the swelling)
  • pain medication
  • keeping the ear dry, as directed by your physician
  • a cotton wick placed in the ear (this wick helps the antibiotic drops enter and work more effectively in the ear canal)

 

How is swimmer's ear prevented?

 

Try these simple techniques:

 

  • Place two to three drops of a mixture of vinegar/isopropyl alcohol into your ears after the ears come in contact with water.
  • Use ear plugs for swimming or bathing.
  • Do not aggressively clean your ear canal.
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