Swimmer’s Ear: Symptoms and Prevention

Published: April 5, 2021

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Swimmer’s ear, or otitis externa, is an infection of the outer ear canal. While it affects people of all ages, rates are highest in young people between the ages of 5 and 14. According to a leading health clinic, symptoms are generally mild at first, but worsen if the infection is not treated or if it spreads. Symptoms include itching in the ear, redness inside the ear, pain, a feeling of fullness inside the ear, and muffled hearing. Advanced progression of the infection may result in severe pain that radiates to the face, swelling in the lymph nodes, and fever.(1)

Swimmer’s ear often occurs when water is in the ear canal for an extended period of time. The moist environment allows germs to grow.(2) The Centers for Disease Control offers these tips for preventing swimmer’s ear:

  • Keep ears as dry as possible, use a bathing cap, ear plugs, or custom-fitted swim molds when swimming
  • Dry ears thoroughly after swimming or showering
  • Tilt your head to hold each ear facing down to allow water to escape the ear canal
  • Pull your earlobe in different directions while the ear is faced down to help water drain out
  • If there is still water left in ears, consider using a hair dryer to move air within the ear canal (put drying on lowest heat and speed setting and hold several inches from ear)
  • Don’t try to remove ear wax. Ear wax helps protect the ear canal from infection(2)

Often ototopical medicines are used to treat swimmer’s ear. The medicines may be delivered by these methods: powders, creams, ointments, or drops.(3) “One of the more frequently used is CSF Powder.”(4) The powder is generally applied using a Sheehy-House Powder Insufflator. Powders have a long dwelling time within the external auditory canal, middle ear, or mastoid cavities and “adhere tenaciously to granulation tissue.”(3)

 


(1) Mayo Clinic, Swimmer’s Ear, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/
(2) Centers for Disease Control, Facts about “Swimmer’s Ear,”https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/
(3) Billings, K. M.D., Medscape, Ototopical Antibiotics, Antibiotics https://emedicine.medscape.com/
(4) Haynes, David S., Ear, Nose and Throat Journal, Perioperative Antibiotics in Chronic Suppurative Otitis Media,  https://www.thefreelibrary.com/