Home » Blog » Swimmer’s Ear: Don’t Let the Fun Get Washed Away!

As an otolaryngologist (ENT), I see many cases of Swimmer’s ear, especially during summer. While it’s a common condition, it can certainly dampen your aquatic adventures. This guide will inform you how to prevent and manage Swimmer’s ear, ensuring a healthy and enjoyable time in the water.

sideview of a girl's head where she is hold her ear, ear looks inflammed due to the red shadow. There is a watermark that says ENT 360.
Swimmer’s ear can cause severe ear pain.

Understanding Swimmer’s Ear:

Think of your ear canal as a mini self-cleaning tunnel. While sometimes inconvenient, Earwax is a hero, trapping dust and germs. However, when water gets trapped in the canal, it softens this protective layer, creating a breeding ground for bacteria or fungi. This leads to inflammation, pain, and discomfort – the telltale signs of Swimmer’s ear. Other common causes of Swimmer’s ear include excessive cleaning of the ear canal, using objects like cotton swabs or hairpins to clean the ears, and swimming in polluted water.

Symptoms to Watch Out For:

  • Earache, often dull and throbbing that worsens with movement or touching the ear
  • Itchy feeling inside the ear canal
  • A sensation of fullness or blockage
  • Drainage of foul-smelling or sticky pus or fluid from the ear
  • Muffled hearing

When to Seek an ENT’s Expertise:

If your Swimmer’s ear symptoms are severe or don’t improve with home remedies within a few days, it’s time to schedule a visit. Untreated Swimmer’s ear can lead to more serious complications, such as middle ear infections or hearing loss. During the appointment, an ENT doctor can examine your ear, diagnose the cause of the infection, and check for any complications.

  • Examine Your Ear: Using specialized tools, the ENT can visualize your ear canal to diagnose the cause of the infection and check for any complications.
  • Prescribe Medication: Depending on the kind of infection (bacterial or fungal), doctor may prescribe antibiotics or antifungal ear drops specifically formulated for ear canal infections. Bacterial infections are more common and are usually treated with antibiotics, while fungal infections are less common but can be more challenging to treat and may require antifungal medications.
  • Clean Your Ear Canal: In some cases, if the ear canal is swollen shut or debris prevents medication from reaching the infection site, the doctor may carefully clean the canal to facilitate treatment.

Home Remedies for Relief:

While professional medical advice is always recommended, it’s reassuring to know that there are effective home remedies to alleviate Swimmer’s ear discomfort. These remedies, when used correctly, can provide relief and aid in your recovery.

  • Over-the-counter Pain Relief: OTC Medications like paracetamol or ibuprofen can help manage ear pain.
  • Warm Compress: Warm compresses to the affected ear for 15-20 minutes can reduce inflammation.
  • Keep it Dry: This is crucial for recovery. After showering or swimming, use a hairdryer on the cool setting to gently dry your ears. Avoid using cotton swabs, which can push debris further into the canal.

Prevention of Swimmer’s ear:

Here are some tips to prevent Swimmer’s ear from spoiling your water fun:

  • Wear earplugs: Invest in well-fitting earplugs designed for swimming. These earplugs create a barrier against water entry, preventing the softening of the protective layer of earwax and reducing the risk of Swimmer’s ear.
  • Dry your ears thoroughly: Tilt your head to drain water and gently pat the outer ear with a towel after swimming or showering.
  • Avoid digging: Don’t use cotton swabs or other objects to clean your ears. The ear canal is self-cleaning! Using cotton Q-tips or other objects can push earwax deeper into the canal, increasing the risk of infection. It can also cause injury to the delicate skin of the ear canal.
  • Limit earbud use: Avoid earbuds, especially if you’re prone to Swimmer’s ear. Earbuds trap moisture in the ear canal, creating a favourable environment for bacteria or fungi to grow. If you must use earbuds, clean them regularly and avoid sharing them with others.

By following these tips and seeking professional help when needed, you can keep your ears healthy and enjoy a worry-free time in the water. Let’s keep the summer fun flowing!

This article was edited by Dr Akanksha Saxena, Consultant ENT, Head & Neck Surgeon, ENT360, DLF Phase 1 and Sector 52, Gurgaon. She is an ENT Specialist in Gurgaon with over 14 years of experience. Read more of her blogs here.

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