Swimmer's Ear: A Personal Account


Summer is almost here, Oklahoma, and I remember when I was a young girl, that my summer consisted of either being at the neighborhood pool, going to the lakes in NE Oklahoma or even visiting my aunts in Daytona Beach. I just about lived in my bathing suit all summer long.

And every summer, I would have at least one case of #SwimmersEar! Oh man, does that hurt!

Now that I work for a great group of ENT physicians, I have learned more about what was going on with my ears. Swimmer’s Ear effects the outer ear, also called “acute otitis externa.” The experts agree with me that it is a painful condition.

The pain is from inflammation, irritation or infection which often occurs after water gets trapped in your ear, with subsequent spread of bacteria or fungal organisms. This condition is most common in children and teenagers, but can also affect adults with eczema (a condition that causes the skin to itch) or people with excess earwax. Lucky for me, my mother knew quickly to be in touch with my doctor who prescribed treatment to reduce the pain and treat the infection.

As a child, I really didn’t want to know, but now that I am a MOM, it helps to understand what causes Swimmer’s Ear—which is a common source of infection because of increased moisture which is trapped in the ear canal. Swimmer’s Ear can come from baths, showers, swimming or moist environments. When water is trapped in the ear canal, bacteria that normally inhabit the skin and ear canal multiply, causing infection of the ear canal. Swimmer’s ear needs to be treated to reduce pain and eliminate any effect it may have on your hearing, as well as to prevent the spread of infection.

There are other factors that may cause someone to have #SwimmersEar, including contact with excessive bacteria in hot tubs or polluted water, excessive cleaning of the ear canal with cotton swabs, contact with certain chemicals such as hair spray or hair dye, damage to the skin of the ear canal following water irrigation to remove wax, a cut in the skin of the ear canal or skin conditions affecting the ear canal such as eczema or seborrhea.

I can still feel some of the signs and symptoms of #SwimmersEar including a fullness or sensation that my ear was blocked up. I can remember having a fever, decreased hearing and incredible pain that seemed to spread to my whole head and neck. In fact, once the pain was relieved, I had a sore neck and headache from all the stress and pain that quickly went away.

What I have learned from working at Oklahoma Otolaryngology Associates, is that if left untreated, Swimmer’s Ear can cause hearing loss, untreated ear infections can spread to the base of the skull, brain or cranial nerves.

If you think you have Swimmer’s Ear or an ear infection, the first step is to call OOA physicians and let one of our #ENTdoctors take a look. He may take a sample of any abnormal fluid or discharge in the ear to test for the presence of bacteria or fungus.

The key is to catch ear infections early!

The doctor will carefully clean the ear canal and before using any drops in the ear, it is important to be sure you do not have a perforated eardrum so your ENT doctor will check if you have a perforated, punctured or injured eardrum. If not, then he will use eardrops that inhibit bacterial or fungal growth and reduce inflammation. Mildly acidic solutions containing boric or acetic acid are effective for early infections.

Once you are back home, ear drops should be applied by someone other than the patient, who needs to lie down with the infected ear facing upwards. Ear drops should be placed in the ear until the ear is full.  The patient needs to remain lying down for a few minutes so the drops can be absorbed.

For severe infections, your ENT doctor may prescribe antibiotics to be applied directly to the ear. Pain medication may also be prescribed as well as topical antibiotics which are effective for infection limited to the ear canal and oral antibiotics if the infection goes beyond the skin of the ear canal.

Follow-up appointments are very important to monitor improvement or worsening, the ENT doctor will clean the ear again and be sure the infection is completely gone. The best Oklahoma ENT has specialized equipment and expertise to effectively clean the ear canal and treat #SwimmersEar. With proper treatment, most infections should clear up in 7-10 days.  #okoa  #SwimmersEar #BestENTinOklahoma #sinushearingloss

For more information about hearing and hearing loss, be sure to check out the website of the Oklahoma Hearing Center, it is full of great resources and information.