If you or your child start having ear pain, especially after swimming in a pool or lake, it could be swimmer’s ear. The medical term for swimmer’s ear is otitis externa, and it’s an infection of the outer ear canal that goes from your eardrum to the outside of your head. This is different than the ear infections children get, which affect the middle ear. And, believe it or not, it isn’t caused only by swimming. Anyone exposed to hot, humid weather for long periods could also develop it. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, swimmer’s ear leads to about 2.4 million health care visits annually, so it’s quite common.
If you or your child has swimmer’s ear, it’s vital to see a doctor as soon as possible for a proper diagnosis and to stop the infection from getting worse. So, if you’re in the Myrtle Beach area, come to Walker Family Care in Little River, South Carolina. Dr. Rogers Walker and Angela Cooper, PA-C, a certified physician assistant, take appointments and walk-ins for all kinds of medical conditions, including ear infections.
Ear wax usually helps keep the ear canal clean by creating a slightly acidic environment that stops bacteria from growing. It also collects dirt, debris, and dead skin cells and prevents them from going any deeper into your ear. But, if you poke cotton swabs or fingers in there to remove the ear wax, you remove the protection it provides, and you could also damage your ear.
Ears that are already scraped or damaged are at a higher risk of developing swimmer’s ear because it’s easier for germs to get in and multiply. Other contributing factors to swimmer’s ear include:
- Allergic reactions to jewelry or hair products
- Moisture in the ear from sweating, swimming, or humid weather
Symptoms of swimmer’s ear range from mild to moderate to severe. Many of these symptoms are present in each stage, but will continue to intensify as time goes on.
- Ear redness, itching, or swelling
- Soreness or discomfort
- Drainage of a clear liquid from the ear
- Decreased hearing in the affected ear
- Severe pain that may radiate to your face and neck
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
- A fever
It’s essential to get a diagnosis as soon as possible to keep the ear infection from getting worse. If left untreated, swimmer’s ear could lead to more severe and long-term ear infections that are harder to treat.
How we treat it
When you come to our office for a consultation, Dr. Walker or Ms. Cooper will take your health history, ask you about your recent activity, including swimming, and perform an ear examination. They’ll examine your ear canal with an otoscope, a lighted instrument used to look inside the ear canal, and they’ll also view your eardrum to make sure it’s still intact. If it’s torn, they’ll most likely recommend you see a doctor who specializes in the ears, nose, and throat.
If needed, they’ll clean your outer ear canal with a suction device or ear curette to gently clean out the debris. If they do think it’s swimmer’s ear, they’ll prescribe ear drops that may contain a steroid to lower inflammation, an antibiotic to fight infection, and an acidic solution that will help restore the ear’s natural environment. They may also recommend over-the-counter pain relievers that contain ibuprofen (e.g., Advil), acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol), or naproxen sodium (e.g., Aleve).
- Keep your ear dry until the infection heals.
- Avoid swimming or any other water recreational activity.
- Use a warm compress to help relieve pain.
- Remove earbuds, earplugs, or hearing aids until the pain or discharge goes away.
- Don’t fly.
We know how painful swimmer’s ear can be. Here are some tips to lower your chances of getting it in the first place:
- If you feel water in your ear, tilt your head, and gently shake it to help the water run out.
- When swimming, wear earplugs or a swim cap that covers the ears.
- Avoid swimming in lakes or other bodies of water with high levels of bacteria.
- Use two drops of a homemade solution of equal parts white vinegar and rubbing alcohol in each ear after swimming; the alcohol evaporates the water, and the vinegar prevents bacteria from growing.
If you’ve developed swimmer’s ear, come see us right away before the infection gets worse. We offer convenient appointments or walk-in visits for everyone in the Little River area. Use the online booking tool, or call us at 843-280-8333 today.