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Swimmer’s ear is a common problem that can afflict children and swimmers of all ages, causing pain and discomfort.
In North America, swimmer’s ear is believed to cause an estimated 2.4 million doctor visits each year and cost an estimated half a billion dollars in health care costs.
Swimmer’s ear is an outer-ear infection that can appear when water gets stuck in the ear canal for extended periods of time, creating the perfect environment that allows germs to grow and infect the skin around the ear.
The most common cause of Swimmer’s ear is germs found in pools and at other recreational water venues like lakes or rivers. On the upside, although it is an infection, Swimmer’s ear is non-infectious and cannot be spread from one person to another.
Even though it is possible to contract swimmer’s ear from community pools, most community pools and hot tubs take precautions to keep the water clean (like adding chlorine or regularly cleaning the water), you are actually more likely to get swimmer’s ear from swimming in a lake, the ocean, or another contaminated water source, since these are not as clean as the water in your local pool.
However, with that said, the real bottom line is that getting any water in the ear could create a good environment for swimmer’s ear, and the longer you have water in your ears the more likely you are to end up with the infection. It’s even possible to get swimmer’s ear by taking a bath.
There is a higher risk of developing swimmer’s ear if you have experienced any kind of trauma to your ears. Broken skin allows bacteria to get in, and grow and multiply. About.com recommends you avoid: “scratching your ears using a Q-tip or other object to remove ear wax, [or] placing any foreign object in the ear.”
Unfortunately, there are many other ways to damage the skin around your ears,and even medical conditions like allergies or psoriasis could prove risky for swimmers.
The usual treatment is a simple prescription antibiotic ear drop. Place 5 – 10 drops into the ear 2 to 4 times a day (depending on your doctor’s recommendation) for about a week. The goal is to almost fill the ear canal with drops, and after allowing the drops to stay in the ear canal for approximately 10 minutes, you can drain the fluid onto a napkin or cloth. Unfortunately, there isn’t an effective over-the-counter treatment. You will need a prescription to get the ear drops.
If left untreated, swimmer’s ear like any other ear infection can lead to muffled hearing, severe pain when moving your head, ear discharge and itchiness. Therefore, if you suspect that you or your loved one has swimmer’s ear or any other ear infection, you should consult an ENT doctor as soon as possible.
At Houston Sinus & Allergy, our ENT doctor specializes in treating nasal and ear conditions, as well as issues stemming from allergies. Book an assessment today to let us help you treat swimmer’s ear infection.