As the weather improves, so do your opportunities to hit the pool! For many parents though, this means battling with endless complaints of, “My ear hurts!” So what is it and how do you help your little swimmers cope?
Swimmer’s ear (also called otitis externa) is a painful condition of the outer ear. Males and females of all ages are affected equally, but children and teenagers most frequently develop this type of ear infection. Because the condition occurs most often during the summer with exposure of the ear to water
while swimming, many people call it swimmer’s ear, but water from a bath or
shower can trigger the condition, too.
The skin lining the ear canal and outer ear serves as a barrier against infection from bacteria and fungi, and is also a physical barrier that protects against excessive moisture. Any break in the skin lining can lead to infection.
The barrier can become broken when attempting to clean the ears, from excessive moisture in the ear canal, from ear plugs, hearing aids, heaphones, and other devices that may be inserted into the ear canal. Chemicals like hair dyes, bleaches, and shampoos may irritate the ear canal and alter its protective properties as well. Generally, any inflammation of the outer ear canal, such as infections, allergies, or skin conditions, can lead to swimmer’s ear, and these things can happen at any time of year.
The most common bacteria responsible for outer ear infection are Staphylococcus
aureus and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The most common symptom of swimmer’s ear is pain, and the pain almost always involves only one ear. The ear canal may itch, be red, or swollen and may drain. Ringing in the ear (tinnitus) and dizziness or vertigo may also be present. Fever is generally not present, but if there is, it’s usually low grade.
Treatment of otitis externa involves treating both the infection and the pain. First line treatment involves using antibiotic drops that also contain a steroid. This can be supplemented with oral antibiotics for severe cases. Because the condition causes significant swelling of the ear canal, placement of a wick in the ear canal can speed resolution of the infection in cases where there is difficulty visualizing the ear drum. It is also necessary to clean the ear canal of debris including skin, wax and purulent secretion. The ear should be left alone and kept dry while treatment is ongoing.
If you think your child may have swimmer’s ear or is exhibiting symptoms of ear pain or infection, call Fort HealthCare ENT at (920) 563-6667 to schedule an appointment and be on your way to a happy, splashy summer!