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Everything You Need To Know About Swimmer’s Ear or Outer Ear Infection

swimmers ear.Houston

Summer loving, having a blast.

The changing of seasons is a time of excitement for most people. We all have rituals and routines we do to get ready for enjoying the outdoors.

For some though, fun in the sun has some pretty standard drawbacks: sunburn and swimmer’s ear.

It’s only natural to want to cool down with a dip in the water especially when the sun is blazing down on you. In today’s day and age the quality of that water is what can be a bit worrisome.   Whether they are predisposed or because of the water around them, a large group of people suffer from swimmer’s ear.

Fun in the sun shouldn’t involve pain. So let’s go over everything you need to know about outer ear infections and how to avoid them.

I’m all ears.

Your ears are more sensitive than you think. They can be infected just as easily as your sinuses and the pain from an outer ear infection can be overwhelming. The ear canal runs from your eardrum to the outside of your head and this area can be easily inflamed.

It’s not a rare thing either. In fact, 500 million dollars in health care costs is directly linked to swimmer’s ear. About 2.5 million people will wind up seeing a doctor every year because of the condition. Talk about an earful! As the name suggests, this problem usually affects swimmers. Let’s find out why.

I’m up to my ears in water!

Outer ear infections can come on suddenly or even be self-inflicted. You may not know just how delicate the skin in your ear is but being a little overzealous in a daily routine like using a swab to clean it out can actually damage the skin. When this happens, bacteria can make its way inside and then its infection time.

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. They make the most out of their murky new abode and then you start to feel it.

Although the kind of infection can range from mild to severe there are very common symptoms to look out for.

My ears are burning.

The symptoms of outer ear infection can be subtle or pretty darn obvious:

  • 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 – 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!
  • Watery discharge – Your ear may ooze. I know, just lovely. This discharge can be watery or yellowish in color and smells terrible in the case of the latter. Please don’t smell your ear discharge.
  • Muffled hearing – The inflammation caused by the infection can actually cause a blockage in your ear canal. This can also be cause by the aforementioned ear fluids.

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.

So what do we do if our ears start showing some of the above symptoms?

Don’t play it by 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.

Strength, a great blog from Indiana University Health has some great tips to help fight outer ear infection:

  • Try to use a bathing cap, ear plugs 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.

Talk someone’s ear off.

Some of the consequences of letting this drag out we mentioned earlier were really scary. Trying to escape from the heat in the summer or do our favorite water sport shouldn’t have to become a gamble with ear infection. Neither should being meticulous about keeping our ears clean. If you really think you have an ear wax problem or feel like you have an infection, please see a professional and don’t try and fix it yourself.

By following our tips, you can have a great summer without pain and discomfort. Don’t let all these valuable tips go in one ear and out the other.