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The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and all you can hear is a distant, muffled sound while you stay inside with an aching, itchy ear. Looks like you might have gotten swimmer’s ear, or otitis extera, which is a common infection in the outer ear canal.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “In the United States, swimmer’s ear results in an estimated 2.4 million health care visits every year and nearly half a billion dollars in health care costs.” To avoid ruining your summer and getting the dreaded swimmer’s ear again, here is some explanation about the condition and how you can prevent it in the future.
It’s probably not a big surprise given the name “swimmer’s ear,” but most people don’t realize that water trapped in the ear canal creates a perfect environment for bacteria to multiply and wreak havoc. According to Cooper University Health Care, water brought into the ear from swimming and other water sports “may carry bacterial or fungal particles.” Ordinarily, this isn’t a problem because the water flows out and the ear dries. “But sometimes water remains trapped in the ear canal, washing away the earwax and allowing the skin to remain moist. Then, the bacteria and fungi flourish and can infect the outer ear.” But while you may have gotten an infection from a common water source, swimmer’s ear cannot be transferred from person to person.
After submerging your head in water the CDC recommends that swimmers, “use a towel to dry your ears well. Tilt your head to hold each ear facing down to allow water to escape the ear canal. Pull your earlobe in different directions while your ear is faced down to help water drain out.” When you’re in the water, consider using a bathing cap, ear plugs, or custom-fitted swim molds which will keep water from getting in your ears.
They also advise avoiding putting “objects in your ear canal (including cotton-tip swabs, pencils, paperclips, or fingers). Don’t try to remove ear wax [since] ear wax helps protect your ear canal from infection. If you think that your ear canal is blocked by ear wax, consult your health care provider.”
When prevention fails, and you are experiencing pain, itchiness, and drainage from the ear, it is time to speak to a professional clinician who specializes in ear-nose-throat (ENT) treatments. These professionals will be able to accurately assess and diagnose an ear infection if present, and recommend the best form of treatment.
To reduce pain and prevent other long-term effects on the ear, medical care is recommended. With over ten years experience in treating ear infections, Dr. Nguyen can provide the professional and personal attention you need.