While swimming and relaxing in your custom in-ground swimming pool can be fun for the whole family, swimmer’s ear is definitely no fun at all. Swimmer’s ear or “otitis externa” is an infection in the outer ear canal, which runs from your external ear opening to your eardrum. It occurs when water that stays in your ear after swimming creates a positive environment for the growth of bacteria.
Initial symptoms of swimmer’s ear include:
- Redness in the ear
- Itching in the ear canal
- Mild discomfort that increases when the outer ear is pulled
- Drainage of clear fluid
Left untreated, the condition can progress, resulting in more significant symptoms like:
- Increased itching
- Increased pain
- Deeper redness in the ear
- Greater fluid drainage
- Discharge of pus
- Decreased or muffled hearing due to partial blockage of the ear canal
An Ounce of Prevention
Swimmer’s ear is easily treated in most cases. However, it’s much better to avoid it in the first place. Here are some steps you can take to minimize your chances of developing the condition:
- Clear your ear canals by tipping your head to the side and allowing water to drain.
- Dry your ears gently but thoroughly after swimming. Dry the outer ear only by wiping it with a clean, soft towel. You can also use a blow-dryer on its lowest setting held at least a foot away from your ear.
- Provided you don’t have a punctured eardrum, use homemade ear drops before and after you swim. Mix one part white vinegar to one part rubbing alcohol, and pour one teaspoon into each ear and let it drain back out. You can buy similar solutions at your drugstore.
- Avoid putting foreign objects such as fingers and cotton swabs into your ears. They can damage the thin layer of skin that protects your ear canals, and can also move wax and debris deeper into your ear canal.
- Use cotton balls or earplugs to protect your ears from irritants like hair sprays and dyes.
- Talk to your doctor before swimming if you’ve recently had an ear infection or surgery.
Treating Swimmer’s Ear
If you suspect you have swimmer’s ear, see your doctor right away. Early treatment can prevent the infection from worsening. Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on your symptoms and an examination of your ear canal.
Treatment of swimmer’s ear involves:
- Your doctor cleaning your outer ear canal to help eardrops flow to all infected areas
- Eardrops to combat the infection, possibly made up of acidic solutions, steroids, antibiotics, and antifungals, depending on the seriousness of your infection
- Over-the-counter pain relievers
- No swimming
- Avoiding the use of earplugs or earphones
- No flying
Preventing and treating swimmer’s ear is just another aspect of pool safety. With proper care and attention to this common condition, you can enjoy a long and uninterrupted pool season every year.